Amber Potter, RPN, is the recipient of the 2022 WeRPN Award of Excellence in the Care of Older Ontarians and is described as an extraordinary nurse who exemplifies what it means to be a nurse leader in long-term care.
When Amber Potter, RPN, graduated from Canadore College in North Bay, she wasn’t entirely sure which direction she wanted to go with her degree. She had initially studied sports and strength conditioning with the goal of becoming an athletic therapist, but after completing the program, she questioned whether she was on the right path. Ultimately, as someone who has always loved helping people and enriching the lives of others, she turned to nursing and has never looked back.
Amber began her career at Park Lane Terrace in Paris, Ontario, in September 2017. With limited exposure to long-term care in school, she saw the position as an opportunity to learn about and experience a different side of nursing. Two years after embarking on her new career path, Amber was offered (and happily accepted) the role of Associate Director of Clinical Services.
And then the pandemic hit.
Just a few short months into her new role, COVID-19 emerged and placed an immense strain on facilities like hers. Long-term care had already been a challenging field, as nurses are required to deal with a plethora of diverse health problems — both acute and chronic, mental and physical — necessitating a broad range of knowledge. However, paired with a rampant virus, the field can become even more daunting, especially for a new nurse. But that didn’t deter Amber.
“It takes a long time, when you step into a new position, to become adjusted to all of the requirements,” she says. “The pandemic changed everything; it changed nursing in general. So, it was a struggle, but we had a lot of really supportive staff, residents and families. Our team here is excellent.”
Amber has been fortunate to have strong mentors in her workplace who have led with excellence and by example. “Our Director of Clinical Services is out there on the floor, working side-by-side with the other nurses. She really exemplifies what I hope to be as a leader. She showed me that you can be out there, working alongside your team, doing front-line care, and still be a great leader as well.”
While Amber remains extremely proud to be a nurse, she thinks more can be done to support nurses and reignite a passion for the profession. A lot of support for nurses came swiftly at the beginning of the pandemic, but Amber notes that things have changed. “Throughout the pandemic, nurses have felt undervalued,” she says. “I think some people forget that we’re still going through this and it’s no longer just COVID-19; now we’re seeing surges in other viruses and illnesses, such as RSV.” Amber believes that reinforcing support for nurses and listening to their needs is crucial to rebuilding their lost love for the profession. “We can’t improve everything at once, but we have to start somewhere.”
She’s also sensitive to the fact that moral distress and mental health have been worsening among nurses since the pandemic started. “If you need help, you’ve got to find it,” she says. “Don’t hesitate to ask. If I notice that a member of our staff seems to be struggling, I’ll ask whether they’re ok, whether they need help or whether there’s anything I can do to assist them.”
She also encourages self-care to help improve mood and boost morale among nurses. To fulfil her own self-care requirements, Amber enjoys spending her spare time going on road trips with her husband, watching her favourite shows and sports matches on TV and spending time with friends.
“I really try to make sure that I take time for myself away from work,” she says. “I also think it’s important for people who have benefits to utilize them. Learning to set aside some time for those types of activities — like registered massage therapy — can really help you relax.”
Despite the current state of nursing, Amber is committed to the profession that she loves. And she wants anyone who is considering becoming a nurse to know that it’s “still such a rewarding career! I feel like being a nurse is embedded in who I am, and I love doing it no matter what challenges we have faced in the past few years. It is still worth doing and putting the effort in. I think we will see change, but it will take people who are willing to help drive that change.”