Humeira Dhanji is a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) for the Acute Pain Service in Calgary. She is the embodiment of the definition of a patient advocate. She is thorough, persistent and dedicated.
If you’ve ever met Humeira, you know she takes her job seriously and takes much pride in her work. If you ever get to know Humeira, you know she has a fantastic sense of humour and a Joie de Vivre like no other. As intense as she is at work, she manages to live life to the fullest outside the hospital walls. She is a seasoned world traveller, a mother of 2 beautiful children and a contributing member to society through her many volunteer efforts. This interview had to be broken up into two parts. The first part describes Humeira’s lighter side of life, the second describes her role as a CNS.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I was born in Karachi, Pakistan. My parents immigrated to Calgary, Canada when I was 4 years old & I have lived here ever since.
Q: What has been your nursing work journey, and where do you work now?
A: I graduated with a Bachelor of Nursing in 1997 from the University of Calgary. My first role as an RN was in Neurosciences on Units 111/112 at the Foothills Medical Centre (FMC). I cherished this role & worked there for 4 years. Unfortunately I ended up injuring my rotator cuff as a result of lifting a heavy stroke patient & was forced to leave that line of work. I then worked on Unit 81, Medical Cardiology at FMC. This field complemented my background in the neurosciences & pushed me to pursue my graduate degree.
I took two years off of work and in 2004, I obtained my Masters in Nursing from the University of Calgary with a focus on Cardiology, specifically on patients living with ICDs (implantable cardioverter defibrillators). When I went back to work I joined Unit 94, Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit, at FMC where I provided 1:1 or 1:2 care for patients after open-heart surgery. Finally, in 2005, I became a CNS with the APS, originally at Rockyview General Hospital, and currently at FMC.
Q: What drove you to pursue a Master’s in Nursing?
A: I wanted to do more in my role as a nurse. I knew there were changes that needed to occur in the workplace and I felt powerless in my position at the time to modify them. I am referring specifically to the way nursing policies & procedures were written or carried out. When I discovered that something was unsafe or could be carried out in a manner that provided better quality care for a patient, I wasn’t always heard. A large part of the nursing role is being a patient advocate. I felt I was doing a disservice to my patients whenever a situation like this occurred and I was unable to ameliorate it.
Q: What does a typical work day look like for you?
A: My typical work day can occur in 1 of 3 ways: I am the only nurse responsible to do APS rounds, I am one of a team of nurses to do APS rounds, or I have a non-clinical day. On clinical days, I come in to work, look up APS patients, do morning rounds with the Anesthesiologist & determine the best patient care plans. We then re-assess the patients in the afternoon to see if what was implemented was effective. Throughout the day, we receive consults for developing an effective & comprehensive analgesic regimen in complex pain patients (i.e. extensive trauma, acute on chronic pain, opioid dependency, and cancer pain patients).
My non-clinical time consists of meetings for policy & protocol development, teaching or developing APS workshops / in-services (which can involve a myriad of topics on pain for various audiences), participating in safety reviews, and ensuring that APS teaching and information resources are kept up to date on our APS website. Of course, there are always clinical or nonclinical issues that arise regarding acute pain management throughout the day.
Q: What do you like most about where you work?
A: I feel very fortunate to be in a position that allows me to work to my full scope of practice. As a result of this, I feel valued in the work place. The APS consists of Anesthesiologists, CNSs and Nurse Clinicians and is based on a collaborative approach. Pain management for a patient is discussed amongst all those rounding on the patient that day and the various options are evaluated, allowing us to come up with the best plan for that particular patient.
I also love what I do. How well pain is managed can determine the course of a patient’s illness trajectory. It is very rewarding going home knowing a patient that was previously in agonizing pain, now rates their pain as “mild and tolerable” as a result of the analgesia plan provided by APS.
Q: What is the most important thing you think nurses should know about pain control?
A: Pain management is vital in a patient’s recovery. Pain is a stressor and if left untreated or uncontrolled for a prolonged period of time can heighten the stress response resulting in decreased immunity and increased cortisol levels, thereby increasing insulin resistance. Poorly controlled acute pain for an extended period of time can result in chronic pain which is irreversible.
Q: Looking back, if you could give your new nurse self some advice what would it be?
A: Advice for my new nurse self would be:
- Hindsight is 20/20. When an adverse situation occurs in the workplace, don’t be so hard on myself. It’s simple to look back on a situation, evaluate it & determine the best course of action to take. However, the solution is not so easily determined when one is in the midst of an unfavorable clinical situation occurring.
- It is ok to laugh. Nursing can be very rewarding, however it can also be very challenging (both physically and emotionally). It is ok to look back & laugh at yourself & the situations you had been in. Being able to find humor in certain stressful situations can increase job satisfaction. In order to excel at something, you need to enjoy it. In order to enjoy it, there has to be some laughter.
- You don’t have to know it all. You are not perfect and you don’t have to be. It is ok to ask for help when you need it. No one knows everything. As you progress in your nursing career, your knowledge base will expand. Through time you will be able to draw from your clinical experiences to help you with your decision making. Your clinical experience will become one of your most valuable resources.
- Trust your intuition. This is easier said than done. Once in a while you will get a “gut feeling” about your patient. There is no scholarly article explaining why you feel a certain way about their illness trajectory, or why you should take one course of action over another to obtain the ideal clinical outcome for them. You just “know” or “sense” which outcome will be the most favorable for them. Trust this feeling.
Q: Why is the union important to you? And, do you think it’s important to the CNS role in general?
A: The union is a unified voice among nurses, representing our collective interests. It ensures that our working conditions remain humane and protects our nursing rights. Because of the union nurses have job security, suitable wages, benefits, vacation, and so forth.
The union’s support is imperative to the CNS role. Even though the CNS role is defined by the CNA, it is due to the union that the role delineation between a Registered Nurse & a CNS is upheld. This allows me to work to my full scope of practice.
Q: What is your favorite thing to do in Calgary?
A: My favorite thing to do is just outside of Calgary in the Rockies. I love hiking & feel very fortunate to live such a short distance from Banff, Canmore, Kananaskis & Lake Louise. I find peace & inner balance when I get the opportunity to connect with nature. I also love bike riding with my kids!
Q: What is your favorite restaurant/place to shop/book/movie/TV show?
A: Restaurants are like shoes. You can’t just have 1 favorite!! I love to eat so I have a few favorite places – OEB breakfast (Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day – a good breakfast sets the tone for the day), Tango Bistro, Anju restaurant, and The Keg to name a few.
As for shopping, I love a good sale! I’m not a fan of buying regular price as I believe everything eventually comes on sale. But I’ll shop wherever I can find a cute outfit at a great price.
My favorite books include The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill and A Thousand Splendid Sons by Khaled Hosseini
My favorite movies are The Shawshank Redemption and Goodwill Hunting.
My favorite TV shows are Marvel Agents of Shield, The Blacklist, The Big Bang Theory and The Mindy Project.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed above, I can’t narrow my choices to just 1 in any category. I believe life is vast & full of countless enjoyable diversions. I think it would be a disservice to limit my leisure pursuits to just 1.
Q: What are you looking forward to in the next year?
A: Over the next year, I hope to continue in my role as a CNS managing acute pain in patients and teaching nursing staff about optimal pain management. I would like to persist in developing various policies & protocols that continue to facilitate the delivery of the best possible analgesia for patients, and I would like to keep on delivering lectures that discuss new pain management strategies.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
A: I would like to have the opportunity to do some research in pain management and hopefully a publication could ensue from this. In my personal life… Traveling! I’ve always enjoyed seeing other parts of the world. I would like to take my family on fun vacations!