Simone Charles: Surgical oncology nurse, Mount Sinai

My job entails caring for some of.


My job entails caring for some of our most elderly people after they’ve had surgery or treatment for various oncological reasons. Oncology is the medical field dealing with cancer. In our particular unit, we take care of muscle and bone cancers.

My education was a little unconventional for nursing. I graduated from OCAD with a bachelor of fine art in sculpture. After that I went to the University of Toronto’s nursing program as an advance-standing student. I took nursing because I was drawn to how relationships are negotiated in these very highly technologically mediated environments. A hospital is an area where that is occurring constantly.

I don’t see a huge difference between art and nursing. To be a really effective practitioner in health care, you need an openness to experience and a non-judgmental curiosity in approaching problems. In art, similarly, you have strict parameters that you have to consider very carefully when you form meaning in a piece of work. I see my practice as a nurse as following that very same approach: I have clear parameters in the hospital and somehow make them have meaning for my patients in how we treat them.

I found U of T to have a quick and rigorous program that requires you to figure out who you are, how you’re going to communicate with people and how you’re going to be useful in that care situation.

I was placed with a senior nurse on the unit that I currently work on now, and she amazed me. She was able to show compassion and continue to teach her peers about embracing an individual experience that was significant in my professional development. To this day I work with her. She is still my mentor.

After nursing at U of T, I entered practice. I’ve returned to school and am doing an advanced practice degree as an adult student. It expands my practice, allowing me to diagnose, treat and manage care independently for the elder population I’m focused on. I add to the clinical care team in my ability to take on problems.

The tales that some of the older people can tell you about the world before you were born is the best stuff that happens on the job. Every day I seek out my patients’ stories because it’s an opportunity to hear things you would never have access to about people’s lives. Even as an artist that’s interesting to me. It’s something I find great reward in.

You have to be fast. The speed of the unit can be challenging to negotiate. In surgical oncology things can change quickly post-operatively. You have to be attuned to patterns and recognize shifts very quickly. You need to be a very good communicator and to remain calm in the face of chaos.

The hardest parts are witnessing significant decline in patients and advocating for your patients to be heard in the care team. The long hours can be fairly gruelling, too.

The best thing I do to safeguard my ability to remain present is to spend a lot of time outside work doing things that take care of me. I still have an art practice and work through drawings and ideas. I spend time with people I really care about. Part of this work really changes what’s a priority in your life. I really do make time for the people I love the most – more so than I ever have.

Where to study nursing

Algonquin College (Ottawa) Practical nursing: $1,679.86/term (plus fees).

algonquincollege.com

Brock University (St. Catharines) Bachelor of science in nursing: $6,466.90/year. brocku.ca

Cambrian College (Sudbury) Practical nursing: $2,139.21/semester. cambriancollege.ca

Centennial College (Toronto) Bachelor of science in nursing: $7,150.51/year Practical nursing: $3,636.50/year. centennialcollege.ca

Durham College (Oshawa) Collaborative bachelor of science in nursing: $6,040.26/year Practical nursing: $5,140/year. durhamcollege.ca

George Brown College (Toronto) Bachelor of science in nursing: $6,954/year Practical nursing: $4,444/year. georgebrown.ca

Georgian College (Barrie) Practical nursing: $3,698.44/year. georgiancollege.ca

Humber College (Toronto) Bachelor of nursing: $7,144.26/year. humber.ca

Lakehead University (Thunder Bay) Bachelor of nursing: $5,907.95/year. lakeheadu.ca

Laurentian University (Sudbury) Bachelor of science in nursing: $8,875.00 /year (plus fees). laurentian.ca

McMaster University (Hamilton) Bachelor of science in nursing: $7,171.78/year.

mcmaster.ca

Nipissing University (North Bay) Bachelor of science in nursing: $4,864.85-$8,169.20/year. nipissingu.ca

Queen’s University (Kingston) Bachelor of nursing science: $7,117.02/year. queensu.ca

Ryerson University (Toronto) Bachelor of science in nursing: $6,983.52/year. ryerson.ca

Seneca College (King City) Bachelor of science in nursing: $7,000/year Practical nursing: 3,636/year. senecac.on.ca

Sheridan College (Oakville) Practical nursing: $4,778.72/program (plus fees).

sheridancollege.ca

Trent University (Peterborough) Bachelor of science in nursing: $7,790.82/year.

trentu.ca

University of Guelph (Guelph) Bachelor of science in nursing: $3,444.53/year. uoguelph.ca

University of Ontario Institute of Technology (Toronto) Bachelor of science in nursing: $6,040.26/year (plus fees). uoit.ca

University Of Ottawa (Ottawa) Bachelor of science in nursing: $4,299.25 /semester. uottawa.ca

University of Toronto (Toronto) Bachelor of science in nursing: $8,100/year. utoronto.ca

University of Western Ontario (London) Bachelor of science in nursing: $7321.93/year. uwo.ca

University of Windsor (Windsor) Collaborative honours bachelor of science in nursing post-diploma bachelor of science in nursing: $3,596.84/semester. uwindsor.ca

York University (Toronto) Bachelor of science in nursing: $6,907/year (plus fees).

yorku.ca

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