Marylyn “Dawn” (Cant) Faris (BSN ’55, MSN ’79)

Nursing and the school
I wanted to become a Public Health Nurse, as it was called in those days. I lived in a suburb of Vancouver near UBC, so it was the obvious place to go. The program was 6 years long at the time, and three of those years were to be spent in residence at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), doing the regular course for all RNs. At the beginning of our second year at UBC, which was the start of the BScN program following a year of Arts, we were told that the program would be shortened by 6 months because the VGH “probie” practicum would be covered during our UBC term. We were in the brand new Wesbrook Building, and a nursing arts lab was set up, everything all new, and courses taught by Beth McCann. We learned basic care procedures on Mrs. Jones, then had short practice sessions on the wards at VGH. We attended regular UBC courses in biology, anatomy and physiology, plus English, etc. We then immediately joined the VGH class that had started in January, and completed that program in time to return to UBC in the fall of 1954, after writing our RN exams. The goal of our program was to prepare nurses at the BScN level in the basics of public health, administration and teaching, rather than having three separate streams to choose from. Therefore our final year practicums were one month in each of these fields. I did my public health in Vernon, administration in Port Alberni, and teaching at St.Paul’s. It was a very intensive year, partly because they were trying their best to impart as much as possible of each stream, it seemed. Also I was engaged to Don that year, and preparing for our wedding the day after my teaching practicum finished in June. My recollections of the schools, teachers, residence life and practicums are many, and very positive. UBC instructors were Beth McCann, Margaret Duncan, and Pauline (? name escapes me) for fieldwork practicums. I had a great time, learned so much, and made many wonderful friends. I came away wishing I could become a midwife, but this was not possible in Canada in those days.

For six months after completing my practicums and then marrying Don, I worked on the surgery unit at the TB Pavilion. Then we went by train and stormy seas to Northern Nigeria, where Don was posted to an agricultural research center operated by Her Majesty’s Overseas Civil Service. In other words, I became a Colonial memsahib of sorts, and our first two sons were born in Kaduna, attended by British midwives. During the year before our first son was born, I was asked to operate the dispensary at a nearby college that eventually became Ahmadu Bello University. The clinic served staff of all levels, including the British expat teachers, plus support workers and local villagers. It was a great learning experience in tropical medicine, and the regional MOH visited on Friday mornings to help me with the problems of the week. It seemed strange to be expected to diagnose, prescribe, and treat, but Clinical Nurse Practitioners do that nowadays.
Four years later, when Nigeria achieved independence, it was the ideal opportunity for Don to start his PhD program at the University of California, so we spent the next four years in student housing on the Davis campus. Once our third son was a year old I returned to work part-time, relieving the obstetrics supervisor at a nearby county hospital. Another great learning opportunity, and a chance to work in my favorite field. Then it was off to Beaverlodge, Alberta, where Don was a Plant Breeder at an Agriculture Canada Research Station. It was an ideal place to raise a family, with a great school system and an active rural community life-style. After our youngest was in school I went to work in the local 34-bed hospital for 4 years doing general duty. At that point the Alberta Mental Health Services began looking for nurses to add to its services because new medications made it possible to manage patients in the community, and the back wards of mental hospitals were being closed out. So I became the nurse hired to start up the work in the Grande Prairie clinic, to serve the area from Valleyview west to the BC part of the Peace Country, south to Grande Cache and north to High Level. It involved lots of road travel and occasional chartering of planes to meet the needs of the program, but again, offered new challenges.

Graduate School and Beyond
After four years of that work, and when the boys were completing their schooling, it was time to be thinking about our next overseas posting. From what I knew of career options that would be available to me, I would be needing at least one more degree. So I enrolled in the MSN program at UBC in 1977, thinking that a focus on curriculum design and education in general would be most useful. Margaret Campbell’s course in curriculum design was most helpful, and as I remembered from her classes as a VGH teacher, she was a very effective teacher. I think Beth McCann was still there, and my thesis advisers were Marilyn Willman and Jack Yensen, while Rose Murakami taught Nursing Theory. Jack Yensen taught Research Methodology, and I was privileged to have the TA in that class during my second year. Again, I gained many new friends and ideas, and I have been hugely blessed with the stress on critical thinking and problem solving, which have served me well ever since.

In September 1980 we left for Hyderabad, India, where we spent the next twelve years. Don was a plant breeder at an international institute, one of 15 supported by CIDA and IDRC throughout the developing (I don’t like that word) world by a central consortium of donor countries. This one was ICRISAT, which researches crops that grow in the semi-arid tropics, and Don mainly worked on pigeon-pea (used in Indian dal) wherever it is grown in the world, so he travelled a lot. I soon learned that nursing is a low-status profession in India, a fact that restricts most nurses to hospitals and leaves community nursing and health promotion work sadly neglected. I was grateful for an invitation to join a curriculum-planning group at Osmania University that was designing an MSN program, not an official job, but a chance for me to understand the challenges. It was great program in spite of this, with two streams: clinical nurse specialist and teaching. I also studied the work of the national volunteer family-planning program that supplements the government program. Also, along with another spouse who was a doctor, I was involved in a family health care program to provide resources for the families who came to ICRISAT from about 30 countries. Then WHO offered me a contract in Indonesia, so I spent 6 months in Jakarta, working with the ministry of health to design evaluation strategies for students’ clinical nursing practice in schools throughout the country of more than 1000 islands. When I got back to India I was invited by an NGO to set up a community-based health clinic in a nearby village, staffed by a community health worker, and used by the local health unit as a demonstration model for nursing students on practicum. Throughout those years I became very involved in learning and teaching computer skills on PC’s, having smuggled my first one into India in 1982, when such things were forbidden. Lots of opportunity there!

We retired from India in 1992 to help our four mothers and aunts, who all lived in Victoria. Since then I have been involved in many levels of care-giving, to the point where “retirement” is not a goal, and care-giving is a way of life. There have been chances to enjoy travel, sailing, music, and our five grand-children as well, of course. Our elderly ladies lived to ages from 97 ½ to 104, and while my mother was still coping with Alzheimer’s, Don fell off the roof and fractured his skull. Head-injury care-giving then became my new journey, which continues. During some of the easier years I achieved my goal of training and working at Hospice, which I did for 5 years. From what these experiences have taught me, I have a deep concern for the help and support we need to give to care-givers in our society, both family members and those whose careers are spent caring for those who need to be in facilities. It can be deeply rewarding work, and it is becoming more needed and more deserving of support in the future.

Dawn Faris, BSN Class of ’55

The bush house in Nigeria was our first home for about 18 months. It had a cold water tap, but no electricity or phone. We were upgraded to an “electrified” house when Kenn was about 4 months old.

Here, I am helping a class of nursing students from Hyderabad, India, who are doing their practicum on rural work, to present a “Health Mela” at a nearby NGO project at a local school. This would be called a “Wellness Fair” now.