For Jena Merkosak, an essential part of nursing is helping patients to relax.
The recent graduate of Nunavut Arctic College’s four-year nursing program was able to do exactly that by speaking the Inuit language to some unilingual individuals who came in for assessment or treatment during her clinical placements in Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet.
“I would see relief in their faces when I spoke Inuktitut to them … they could emotionally express themselves without having to go through a barrier. That was the biggest reward,” she said. “To me it was very natural to connect with patients, to really hear them out and empathize and develop a therapeutic relationship with them.”
Merkosak can recall the influential day when she realized nursing would be a career that suits her. She was an 11-year-old Grade 6 student in her home community of Pond Inlet, and the new health centre was just opening.
“Everyone in the whole community was so excited … (about) how we’ll have more nurses and increased accessibility to health care. I was so fascinated,” she recalled. “I told my teacher at the time. What she said really stood out to me, I guess. She said something like: ‘Yeah, you could be a nurse one day, if you wanted. You are caring. You have the qualities of a nurse. If you feel that this is something you’re interested in, you can go for it. That’s when I feel like the door opened for me. I was like, OK, I want to be a nurse … I really started imagining that I’d be a nurse as an adult.”
Along the way, she enrolled in the Nunavut Sivuniksavut college preparatory program and she later worked for Parks Canada, but the lure of nursing was never far.
A virtual grad ceremony was set for June 25 for the four 2021 graduates of the program. Merkosak, who earned the Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated Leadership Award, wrote the valedictory address. In light of all the complications that COVID-19 posed to learning and completing clinical practicums over the past 15 months, she credited her peers for proving how adaptable they are. Classroom learning was replaced by online meetings. Many scheduling revisions occurred. Socialization was reduced to a minimum.
“We have endured many obstacles. Despite these challenges, we have risen to the occasion,” she said, adding that the light at the end of the tunnel was not a train, but “a ray of sunshine.”
Even though Merkosak excelled in meeting the academic demands to qualify for the profession, she admits that she periodically wrestled with doubts when in a clinical setting, something she describes as “imposter syndrome.”
“I felt like I didn’t belong in the hospital. I’m not a health-care professional yet, I’m only a nursing student and I don’t know all the answers yet — so those times where I feel very nervous and not feeling like I quite belong in the institution,” she explained.
However, she’s learning to be patient with her own development and to “trust the process.”
There’s still a residency mentorship component to come, and that will help Merkosak determine which area of nursing she will specialize in, she said.
She added that she’s grateful for the practicum placement opportunities to date and how helpful public health and the Qikiqtani General Hospital staff were in accommodating the nursing students.