Discussions about rural nursing tend to focus on the disadvantages, such as a lack of equipment, resources and specialists.
But Deirdre Jackman, RN and PhD, is changing the narrative. After managing a research project involving rural nursing and medical preceptorships throughout Alberta, she is advocating for the benefits of nursing in a rural environment.
The University of Alberta assistant professor’s research shows that working in a rural hospital is excellent preparation for nursing in any practice setting; because there are fewer health-care professionals on site, students broaden their experience over what they may gain in a city.
Nurses as “generalist specialists”
“The rural preceptorship experience allows students to expand their knowledge,” Deirdre says. “They see holistic nursing, because as one student said, ‘We saw everything from birth to death, and it could all be in one day.’”
In a rural hospital, she says, “You have to know how to assist in delivering babies and be there firsthand when a motorcycle vehicle accident or a heart attack comes in, or somebody breaks a bone, or they have appendicitis.”
The students feel welcomed as family team members, Deirdre says. “Because if we have good, strong teams, including at the student level, they then graduate to become stronger team members, even in an urban setting.”
Over the 18 years she spent working at a hospital in Viking, an Alberta community of 1,100, she found that rural health-care professionals tend to be familiar with the people they serve in ways that are less common in urban centres.
“In a rural setting, because it’s a smaller community, you know your colleagues and patients on a more personal level,” she says.
Dierdre has worked in various settings in Ireland, England and Canada, but finds rural environments the most satisfying. She has both the experience and the research to back up her conclusion that a rural environment promotes teamwork, autonomy, interprofessional collaboration and familiarity with a multitude of aspects of health care.
What Deirdre saw—and has established through research—is that successful teamwork is based in relationships, rather than just gathering people together to work side by side.
“No one discipline, no one person can know everything,” she says. “So when we have people working collaboratively together and sharing their knowledge, experience and respect, the patient really does well.”
Deirdre is a past president and current executive member of the Canadian Association for Rural and Remote Nursing, a forum for networking and research. Her position at the University of Alberta requires her to spend 40 per cent of her time teaching, 40 per cent researching, and 20 per cent doing community service and committee work at the university.