Pat Porterfield (MSN ’81)

Why did you choose nursing?
I’m not sure if I chose nursing or if nursing chose me! Following graduation from high school, I wanted to go to university, but I had many interests so I wasn’t sure in which program to enroll. I was accepted into the first year of a new four year BScN program and thus began my nursing career. Being in the first year of a new program, there were many glitches as well as resistance to “the university nurses” for the faculty and students to manage—we all learned the value of supportive relationships, flexibility, commitment and a sense of humour! Following graduation, my BScN opened many doors to interesting work experiences and travel; I worked in a small general hospital in Inuvik, NWT; two acute care hospitals in Halifax, Nova Scotia; and in community mental health in BC. I then went back to school for my MSN.

Why did you decide to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing at UBC? What did you learn in your program?
I enrolled in the Clinical Nurse Specialist Program at UBC in 1978 as I wanted to deepen my understanding in one area of practice; at that time, my interest was mental health nursing. After beginning my Master’s program, I realized that the knowledge and skills we were developing would serve us well in many roles and areas of practice. We were challenged to question theories and ideas, “unlearning” some of what we had previously believed, and to reflect on our own practice. We were exposed to local nursing leaders, including the faculty at UBC, as well as international nursing leaders. I remember how exciting it was to actually meet Madeleine Leininger, the pioneer of transcultural nursing, while I was studying about the interaction of nursing and culture. During our Master’s program, we analyzed health care systems, developed our research skills and forged life-long friendships.

How did you apply the knowledge and skills you gained from your MSN program?
My first mental health clinical nurse specialist position after graduation gave me an opportunity to work within a palliative care program and I soon realized that I was really drawn to this area of practice. At that time, palliative care programs were just beginning and the health care professionals involved were working together to develop their knowledge and skills in the field. Working in palliative care I was able to use all practice elements that I had learned and valued: developing meaningful relationships with patients and families, contributing to people’s comfort and quality of life, and working collaboratively with other disciplines. There were also interesting opportunities to contribute to the development of programs and standards for care and participate in research and education.

What advice would you give a student considering a degree in nursing? 
Health care is constantly changing. The opportunity to improve practice or to participate in developing new fields of practice is not unique to my experience in palliative care. Given our understanding of peoples’ life experiences and health care needs, nurses are well positioned to be leaders in this work. A nursing degree from UBC is a great start!

Please read her Alumni Recognition Award bio.