Isabelle Wallace: My Story
I grew up in Madawaska Maliseet First Nation in New Brunswick and I have always been interested in health. As a young girl going to the hospital was never something I feared. In fact, I always knew I would devote my life and career to helping others.
It wasn’t until I studied psychology at the Université de Moncton that I discovered nursing as a profession. As part of my research work at Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton, I interviewed patients undergoing dialysis treatments. It was there that I saw first hand the work that registered nurses were doing, and I soon fell in love with the profession. That’s when I decided to reorient my studies and to pursue a Bachelor in nursing.
Nursing is not just a career. Nursing has inspired me on so many levels and taught me many valuable lessons about life. Nursing has not only showed me love, patience, selflessness, compassion and hope, but it also taught me to be an advocate for others and for causes.
During my studies, one of my professors, Dr. France Chassé told me about the CNF/TD Aboriginal Nursing Program and scholarship. Through Dr. Chassé and CNF, I was introduced to a francophone and Indigenous nurse and professor Dr. Michèle Parent-Bergeron from Laurentian University, who soon became my mentor.
At first I was hesitant about applying to CNF because I underestimated myself and I struggled to find the confidence to apply. As it was, I was the only Indigenous nurse at my university, and never got the chance to meet other Indigenous nursing students. It was an intimidating process, but with the support of my mentors, I applied and won the award for 2015. It means a lot to me and validated my abilities and all the work I’ve been doing, but most importantly it taught me to believe in myself.
I had little self-esteem prior to nursing school. Not only did this award give me the confidence to achieve my goals, such as getting accepted into the Master’s program at the University of Ottawa and to do my final practicum with Health Canada for an Indigenous community in Northern Manitoba, but it also showed me the value of mentorship and community support. Support from those around you can be the difference between success and failure. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have the backing of my community, the government and foundations like CNF.
My community is full of strong women. Being Indigenous, francophone and female, I’ve learned to advocate and fight for my seat and my place. My community demonstrates great leadership, perseverance and teamwork. Moreover, being involved in different committees and associations has shown me the value of mentorship and community support.
We face many challenges on the recruitment and retention of Indigenous nurses, and that’s why I am a firm believer in mentoring and supporting students; this is why I am also committed to working and volunteering for the Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada Mentorship Project. While different Indigenous communities face different realities and barriers, it takes a lot to leave home. It costs a lot, not only financially, but emotionally, to leave families and immediate responsibilities, face strong culture shocks, and language barriers, among others.
Yet, since winning this award, I’ve realized there are many others like me who share similar goals, and now I’m proud to mentor and work with other Indigenous students through the Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada and in the near future in my new Master’s degree program at the School of Nursing, University of Ottawa.
Confidence is powerful! It’s not always easy to come by, but once gained, you can accomplish great things. I’m now on the last year of my Bachelor’s degree and have made it a priority to be a voice and a pillar of support for those around me. Therefore, I’ll be focusing my Master’s thesis work and studies on Indigenous health.
Indigenous nurses can be a powerful force within their communities and beyond. They have a unique understanding and background that can make a huge difference, but they need to be empowered first. Collective focus on mentorship and nursing education programs, like CNF’s can be incredibly impactful.
CNF’s campaign to raise funds for Indigenous nursing means so much to me and I hope that future students will benefit from the support of CNF like I have. My work and my implication toward Indigenous Peoples has just started. Thanks to CNF for helping me find my voice and achieve my goals.