Debbie Nowazek is the #epitome of charge #nurses. With 42 years of #orthopedic experience under her belt, she brings much #energy and #positivity to the front lines of caring for patients. She has mastered the craft of running a busy, fast-paced unit and always does so with a smile on her face. Her talent does not go unnoticed by anyone visiting the orthopedic unit at Foothills Medical Centre. Debbie is truly #uniquelyRN.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I was raised in Flin Flon- a small mining town in northern Manitoba. I had to travel to the big city of Winnipeg to take my training at the Misericordia School of Nursing. It was a 2 year program run by the nuns and what an adventure! Living in residence and working right away, hands on with patients. I always wanted to be a nurse- teaching was in my family- my mom, brother, aunt, and sister in law. I thought I didn’t want to be a teacher…. but what I found out is that nursing is teaching and learning every day!
Q: Where do you work now, and what has been your nursing work journey?
A: I work on unit 54 at the McCaig Tower- orthopedics. You know the slogan “Toys R Us”? Well my career slogan should be “Orthopedics is Me.” My last nursing practicum in 1974 was on an orthopedics (and ENT) unit. When I moved to Calgary I wasn’t sure where I wanted to work but had accepted a job on a general surgery unit at Rockyview. I was to start on a Monday- but went skiing on the weekend before, and yes, hit the black run by accident. I fell badly breaking my ankle and straining my knee. I showed up for work on crutches, but it was not to be, so I took a year and worked as an ENT office nurse. When an orthopedic job opened up at Rockyview, I took it and have been focused on orthopedics ever since. I have peppered my career with other opportunities such as: teaching CPR, being part of OSCAR and SCM implementations, and even acting as a night supervisor for a summer.
Q: What do you like most about where you work?
A:I like the energy at work; the turnover of patients, the team work it takes to have patients come in, be treated and get on their way safely. I get real satisfaction from our work when a patient we have taken care of for a long time with severe injuries comes back to the unit just to show us how they are doing now and to say “thanks”.
Q: You make such a huge impact on patient care on a daily basis. If one was to find a comparison to describe you it would be that you’re a conductor of a large orchestra, or the person directing busy and complicated air traffic at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. What would you say is the key of getting through a busy day at the charge desk?
A: Communication I think is the key here. I have to be able to see and hear everything, understand and prioritize its importance in sharing what is going on. I pride myself on “knowing” each patient and being able to impart this to my team. Teamwork is so important; sharing the goal of excellent patient care. I would be remiss in not mentioning that you have to come with energy to the charge nurse role and always always bring a sense of humor.
Q: Unfortunately, nurses often don’t have opportunities to get to know other nurses working on different units across the hospital. It is clear that you have perfected the art of being in charge of a busy orthopedic unit. What advice do you have for nurses starting their charge nurse roles?
A: Some of the basics of life are so important as you start your charge nurse role. Be open and have a welcoming-smile. Simple but true. We, as nurses, work in the hospital environment every day, but patients and families who come to us are very vulnerable and scared. A friendly face and reassurance can go a long way. Respect your colleagues- from housekeepers to management. Don’t be afraid to ask for help-or offer help when needed. Be confident in your medical knowledge, but ask questions and look for opportunities to learn. A great team working alongside of a charge nurse, especially your unit clerk can make the day go a whole lot smoother. Praise them! Delegate when needed.
Q: Many individuals from across the hospital have said that the unit you work on would not be the same without your leadership. What keeps you going?
A: I believe I make a difference. I brought my many years of working hands-on with patients and families to this role. I have fostered relationships with so many different people: from the ortho residents who are now staff, to the hospitalists who appreciate the knowledge I can share, to the lab girl who knows I can help with an unruly patient, to the housekeeper who knows I will help her with a problem, to the new staff and students I welcome and encourage questions from. I learn something new everyday and I share my experience and knowledge too. The patients and their well-being is what keeps me going. I like what I do, and I try to show it every day!
Q: Looking back, if you could give your new nurse self some advice what would it be?
A: Balance your work and home life. It’s easy to work so much that you think that’s all there is… but home and family are so important, as are friends and fun. Bring the experiences you have, such as church and community, back to work. Share. Don’t be afraid to take a chance. Look for new opportunities. Volunteer. Show your vulnerable side. Put yourself in that patient’s shoes- or the families’ or even the doctor’s. Respect and care for those around you.
Q: Why is the union important to you?
A: In 1976 when I came to Calgary, I was not aware of what the union held for me as a new nurse. These were tumultuous times of nurses strikes, demands, wages, and just unrest. I just didn’t know what to think of all of that. Now that I’ve matured and the union has too, I see it means more than negotiating fair wages and benefits (although that has always been a big part of it). It also ensures we have a safe working environment; it offers protection and a voice. I know many take the union for granted, but then they are so grateful for the professional guidance and support when they face an issue they need help with.
Q: What is your favorite thing to do in Calgary?
A: Be outdoors- whether walking along the river, picnicking in a park, skating. There are so many wonderful sights to see. And yes, the mountains are close too- so taking up hiking is on my to do list. We are so lucky to have such cultural opportunities- live musicals, the philharmonic, plays—ooops, too many favorite things!
Q: What is your favorite restaurant/place to shop/book/movie/TV show?
A: I am a meat and potatoes girl from Northern Manitoba- Friday nights I try to find the best burger!
The nice kitchen shops and unique treasures down 17th ave and Inglewood are fun to wander through. I am not a great shopper- love to look and say “I like that BUT…”
I am a library fan: autobiographies, modern novels, mysteries, recently photography books, faces & places. I must confess if I find a great book, I can often be up ‘til wee hours of the morning reading- even on a workday!
I am not too keen on movies. The last one I saw was the one about the town in Newfoundland that was trying to get a doctor… funny!
TV shows- I watch the news. Episodes of Castle are a great distraction and I do tend to watch the Voice.
Q: What are you looking forward to in the next year?
A: Well, in March this year I am heading to Ecuador with True North Mission Society led by Dr. Powell. We will be operating on patients who absolutely would not have access to this orthopedic surgery in their lifetime. This opportunity is a chance for me to give back or pay it forward. Being part of this effort really reminds each and everyone of us how fortunate we are to be living in Canada with it’s access to medical care. I come back humbled.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
A: That seems a long way off! Now that I am 60 and have nursed for 42 years, I expect the “retirement” word may creep into my vocabulary by the end of those 5 years. What that might bring is some travel, friends, possibly golf, some Baba time (yes I am a Ukrainian grandmother), and no doubt some form of orthopedics- hopefully not in my own broken bones, but perhaps sharing my knowledge and experience somehow. Until then I plan to keep working, keep learning and keep on enjoying what I do!