Joanne Profetto-McGrath is from a small town in Italy, where it was normal to go and help when someone was ill in their close-knit community. She shared a memorable experience as a young graduate with a terminal patient who had trouble sleeping. The patient wanted to read the Bible but didn’t have enough energy. Joanne grew to know her quite well and would sit with and read to her on night shift whenever she had the chance. When she passed, her family had been instructed to leave the Bible to Joanne.
“Though I am steps removed from the bedside, I have never forgotten that patients are at the centre of everything I do. In my role as vice dean, all the things I do contribute to the optimal, most ethical, competent patient care.”
Joanne saw the undergraduate program as the foundation for her clinical practice. But when she got into teaching at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, she felt it wasn’t enough. She wanted to expand her own knowledge and skills to legitimize her ability to teach and mentor others. She completed her masters and then her PhD, doing research to build evidence and be a better teacher, clinician and researcher.
“Once you get started, you get hooked,” she says, evidenced by her post-doctorate in knowledge utilization. “I still take workshops and courses. I go to conferences so I can learn from people in various fields who share their knowledge.”
She is passionate about leadership and management. “I think that leaders need to listen to people. That's how we expand our own thinking, because we get a chance to hear perspectives from people who have different backgrounds and different experiences.” She values authenticity, honesty and respect.
She believes leaders should be inspirational. “Others who work with us need to be able to look at us and see our courage and the work that we do, and say, ‘I want to be here.’”
By her third year of her undergraduate program, Joanne was the vice president of the University of Windsor chapter of the Canadian University Nursing School Association (now Canadian Nursing Student Association).
When she graduated, she became involved in opportunities with the Alberta Association of Registered Nurses (now CARNA) right away. “I always felt it was important as a member of a regulated profession to not only to be a member, but that we actually work with others to shape CARNA and to move it forward. Each one of us is CARNA, so we need to be involved rather than just be the recipients of what CARNA does for us.”
She also got involved with the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA).
Joanne and others believed medical/surgery (“med/surg”) should be a specialized area of its own because of its intricacies and the knowledge base required to work with a variety of populations. The group evaluated an Edmonton med/surg program and worked with CNA to bring about a certificate. She received a CNA centennial award for the work.
Around 2007, Joanne was invited to collaborate on a conference to bring like-minded health-care professionals and leaders to transform care delivery in a high-tech environment. One of the first publications by members of this group was an article on the Fundamentals of Care. It started in Oxford, but has since moved all over the world and is now known as the International Learning Collaborative.
Joanne received major research funding to study clinical nurse specialists (CNS) and how they use research in practice during her post-doctorate in knowledge utilization. CNA invited Joanne, one of her doctoral students and others to develop a position statement on the CNS which is still used today.
Joanne works with the Canadian Association of Nursing Research as well. She has presented at events, hosted display tables, supported various committees and was one of its presidents.
“Other professions bring different and complementary knowledge and skills and understanding of the people with whom we work, who we care for,” says Joanne. “Albertans expect the best care when they experience a health issue and should feel confident there is a team of health professionals to support them.” She believes RNs and other health professionals should be comfortable approaching each other for what they have to offer.
She coordinates and co-teaches an interdisciplinary course focused on intercultural exploration of health and practice in Italy to help students understand the contributions other disciplines make.
In Italy, Joanne’s grandfather was an outstanding storyteller. “My brothers and I would sit around the fireplace with him,” she remembers. “We were mesmerized by the stories and characters.”
Storytelling has been valuable in teaching because stories stick in a different way than reading, listening or doing group work. “I always tried to find creative, fun and interesting ways of communicating information in a way that students would understand and remember. So I used stories when I was teaching.”
“When I was teaching students in the clinical setting, each of those patients were a story in themselves because they had a history. I used to encourage the students to really spend time with them, to say, ‘Tell me your story. Tell me about yourself,’ so that they would learn about that individual and their family in a way that you can't from the chart.”
Change can be slow. But in a leadership position, you can do more to facilitate faster change. “I have really enjoyed being vice dean, interim and acting dean partly because these positions really gives us a way of being able to affect change and see the big picture,” says Joanne. “I've been able to share the work we do within our faculty at decision-making tables, ask questions so we can consider things differently, and move agendas forward.”
Joanne regularly nominates people for CARNA Awards and other awards. She believes it’s important to recognize colleagues and showcase their excellent work. “It doesn't take a lot of time, but it means so much to those who are nominated. It also gives them energy to go on to do even better things.”
Joanne says, “I have been so grateful for my career in nursing. When I think of a lifetime achievement award, I think, ‘Oh my goodness. I'm still so young!’"