I’m Lieutenant Navy Jo-Ann Hnatiuk from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, a critical care Nursing Officer just back from my 2nd tour in Afghanistan.
And I’m Captain Nathalie Auger from Ottawa. I’m a perioperative Nursing Officer posted to Vancouver.
HNATIUK: As commissioned members of the Canadian Forces, Nursing Officers are leading members of Canada’s world-class military health care team with responsibilities that are far more varied and challenging than most nurses will find in a civilian hospital or clinical career.
AUGER: We serve in traditional nursing roles at bases across Canada, in out-patient clinics and on rotation at major civilian hospitals.
HNATIUK: But what sets us apart is that we also deploy with our troops overseas and care for their physical and emotional needs when they return.
AUGER: To me, nursing in the military has more depth and that’s what attracted me to it. I knew that I wouldn’t have to just show up to the same floor or the same job every day, every month, of every year. I knew the deployment opportunity was there and I knew that I could do different roles while I was in the military and that’s really what gravitated me towards this job.
HNATIUK: One minute, I could be here talking to you and the next minute, I could be going on a mission to Germany or Africa or Australia – anywhere in the world. We are limitless as to where we can go. As long as there’s airplanes and a place to land or a helicopter to get onto, we can be doing anything to be helping the country, as well as the men and women that are serving in this country.
AUGER: Nursing Officers work with some of the world’s most advanced medical equipment and we have the unique opportunity to receive advanced training in a variety of specialties.
You can do your clinical side where either you specialized, like myself, in the operating room or you can also specialize in the intensive care unit, in mental health or in air evac. You can also do some teaching at the health services school in Borden, Ontario. You can also do some administrative postings and tasks also, so really, wherever you want to see your career go and whatever tasks you want to do, you can direct yourself to do those.
HNATIUK: On my most recent tour in Afghanistan, I was part of a forward air evacuation team.
I would have to say in my career, that was probably the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had. Given the fact that nursing isn’t primarily in a forward capacity or dismounted in any way, for us, it was amazing. To be able to go and be that first responder, to swoop in, rescue a soldier, bring him back out of harm’s way and back to a caring facility that we have over there was probably the most rewarding experience I could ever imagine.
AUGER: When we’re on deployment, the job for us is much more intense. There’s a lot more thinking outside the box because we don’t have all the equipment or all the kit that we would have here in Canada and we don’t have the professional resources either. And so, on deployment, I would do part of anaesthesia, I would help with recovering a patient after surgery, and so, it has much more depth, it definitely puts you on your toes more.
HNATIUK: After your Basic training is completed, you’ll begin the Basic Nursing Officer Course at the Canadian Forces Medical Service School in Borden, Ontario. That course lasts 3 months and it introduces you to military nursing both in the clinic and in the field.
After the Basic Nursing Officer Course, you’ll do a five-week Basic Field Health Service Course. This part of your training emphasizes the leadership duties of a nurse in a military field setting where you may be in command of up to 40 service members.
AUGER: Your first full-time posting usually will be at a military clinic or civilian hospital here in Canada.
General duty nurses can go just about anywhere, either affiliated to bases or to our civilian hospital megacentres. If they’re not in civilian facilities, they’re on base working at the clinics and seeing soldiers through the sick parades.
HNATIUK: But when you go away on deployment, the conditions become more austere. The medicine is the same, but the population is different.
My job there is simply to save a life and to provide the best care I can to an injured person. And that person can be a civilian, it can be an insurgent, it can be a soldier and hopefully, if I’m able to do that, I’m able to support the mission in that way and the best way that I know how.
AUGER: Now my job in Vancouver, I share my time between the operating room and some of the work at the Canadian Forces Trauma Training Centre. And what we do there is actually train medical personnel before they deploy to Afghanistan. So this is definitely a validating part of it, where now I’ve deployed, now I’ve come home and now I get to use all that experience and put it forward to those medical personnel that are going to deploy in the future.
AUGER: Oh, I’d have to say, the best part about being a nurse is definitely the deployments. The excitement of them, the opportunity just to sharpen your skills and just really be at the front line of the care of those soldiers. If there’s a job next week that needs my expertise, that’s where I’m going and that’s really the excitement and you know, the challenges of every day in our job. When you talk to your friends, there’s no way they’ve come close to doing half the stuff you’ve done.
HNATIUK: Well, in any circumstance, saving a life, I think, is the most rewarding and exhilarating experience I’ve ever had. To give an individual another opportunity to live a good life or to see their family is something that we can’t replace and I think, as a healthcare professional, it’s pretty amazing to see that happen.