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Visionary nurse advocates for more education, partnership with doctors

May 2012

Big changes are underway for Quebec’s nurses. The Senior Times learned about them from a nurse who personifies the profession’s emerging profile.

Lynne McVey sits comfortably and purposefully in her executive office at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute. She is the first female executive director of a hospital affiliated with the McGill University Health Centre.

Until last fall, McVey was the highly regarded director of nursing and clinical operations at the Jewish General Hospital during its years of major expansion.

She holds a master’s degree in nursing and is a leader in advocating higher educational standards for Quebec nurses.

Quebec’s requirements for nurses are the lowest in Canada; they must graduate from a three-year CEGEP program.

But there is change in the air. Following a resolution of the self-regulating Order of Nurses of Quebec, talks are underway with the Quebec education and health departments to make a bachelor’s degree mandatory for new nurses over the next 10 years. It will be a five-year program, adding two years in university to the current requirements.

McVey is passionate about improving patient outcomes and says this can be achieved by increasing the number of years of nursing education. She emphasizes that nurses with the equivalent of a bachelor’s of science will be in a position to expand their clinical partnership with doctors.

“We believe that nurses have an important contribution to make that has not been taken advantage of enough, so that our hospitals become safer places for patients.”

For McVey, it’s all about patient care. She cites research by nurse Linda Aiken, a University of Pennsylvania professor who found that for surgical patients at 168 hospitals in the state, death rates were nearly twice as high at hospitals where less than 10 per cent of nurses had bachelor’s degrees as at hospitals where 70 per cent did.

Will this mean fewer nurses enter the profession in Quebec?

According to McVey, upgrading of requirements outside Quebec has resulted in a higher profile for nursing, attracting more candidates.

“We believe that Quebecers deserve to have more nurses coming into the profession.”

McVey discussed that very topic early this month in a seminar for nurses at the Jewish General, sharing the spotlight with Danielle Fleury, recently named chief nursing officer for the province. Fleury will be key in coordinating the expected transformation.

Douglas hospital executive director Lynne McVey wants nurses to be able to keep up with the high-tech nature of modern medicine.

Keeping up with the increasingly high-tech nature of modern medicine is another reason to increase the educational requirement for nurses, McVey added.

“We want to educate our nurses to be full partners with physicians, who are also adapting their education curriculum to the high-technology environment.

Some professors at McGill are working toward having doctors and nurses take classes together at university so they can partner better together when delivering care to patients.”

She cites research published in 1986 by William Knaus indicating that the quality of the nurse-physician relationship appeared to be critical in lowering mortality rates in intensive-care units.

McVey sees her appointment to run the place our parents referred to obliquely as “Verdun” as part of a trend.

“Clinicians are moving into CEO roles. We are seeing a refocusing on the core business of the health-care system, which is clinical work.”

That work can continue over a lifetime for mental-health patients.

Continuity of care is an essential part of treatment, she noted. Quebec has created a clinical specialty in mental health services for nurses with master’s degrees who can provide referrals, continuing care at a local CSSS and help patients navigating the mental-health-care maze.

She plans to launch an “anti-stigma” campaign so that patients feel comfortable in seeking treatment and she hopes to upgrade facilities so the Douglas’s aging infrastructure becomes a “modern healing environment.”

“The power to recover is our vision statement, which for patients with mental illness means to be able to become fully contributing members of our society, even after having an illness. This is part of de-stigmatization.”

McVey said she was “quite shocked” at the neglected state of some of the facilities when she took over her post, including insufficient bathrooms.

“Mental health has been neglected throughout Quebec in terms of renewing our physical environment.”

Apart from the broad range of illnesses the Douglas treats—including schizophrenia, bipolar and eating disorders—at its therapeutic day centre and in-patient units, its staff manages 1,150 housing units for patients under its care.

“We are short about 500 places in the west end,” she said.

The Douglas has a staff 1,500, including clinicians who follow these patients, sometimes in partnership with other hospitals.

Those include 350 nurses, social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, attendants, and educators and specialists who work with children.

“To witness their devotion and passion for their work, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is very much a privilege, and deserves much wider recognition.”



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