Erin Steele didn’t initially set out to become a nurse, but now the award-winning RPN does extremely important work, conducting mental health assessments and supporting the rehabilitation of individuals charged with criminal offenses.
Erin has always had an aptitude for protecting and caring for people, since her early days working as a lifeguard in high school. As fate would have it, when she applied to work in the kitchen at a retirement home in Stratford, her accidentally resume was sent to the nursing department. She was only 17 at the time but hired as a Health Care Aid.
“I loved it!” says Erin, her eyes lighting up. “It was a really nice retirement home, converted from an old schoolhouse, and from there I realized I loved to help people and take care of seniors, so I pursued healthcare.”
But Erin didn’t get accepted into a nursing program straight out of high school, so she began her career as PSW. She completed her PSW program in 2013 and then jumped into nursing, graduating from the practical nursing program at Georgian College in August of 2015.
Erin is committed to continual learning. Erin is now a BScN student and is expected to graduate in December 2024. She is grateful to have received funding from WeRPN’s Nursing Education Initiative, which helped her finance part of her education.
Erin’s efforts earned her RNFOO’s Post-RPN Program award, sponsored by WeRPN. She felt particularly proud of having won that award after feeling as though she’d been on a long academic journey, from being a Health Care Aid to a PSW to an RPN and soon-to-be an RN. “I was very grateful that there were so many scholarship awards out there for nurses who have different interests and specialties,” exclaims Erin. “And I was very happy to have been selected for the WeRPN award.”
Erin currently works in the intake unit at Waypoint Centre for Mental Health, a forensic mental health hospital where she conducts comprehensive mental health assessments on male patients who have been charged with criminal offenses.
“It’s not what most people think of when they hear ‘nursing’,” admits Erin. “Every day is unpredictable and can be potentially dangerous. There are unfortunately a lot of assaults and injuries; it can be very volatile.”
It is up to Erin and her inter-disciplinary team, consisting of nurses, psychiatrists, psychometrists, social workers, amongst others to assess these patients and determine whether a mental illness is, in fact, present. Sometimes it can take up to a year to complete the longer-term assessment.
“We see a lot of exaggerated mental illness,” explains Erin. “But when people truly are sick, [Waypoint] is the best place for them to be because we have seen some miraculous recoveries in people transforming from being completely tortured by their mental illness into becoming regular people every day getting back in touch with their families, getting work, getting housing. So, it can be very rewarding.”
Personalized and patient-centered care is especially paramount for these patients. Erin and her team ensure that care plans are tailored to the unique needs and preferences of their patients by creating very detailed and organized plans that take all aspects of the patients’ lives into consideration, including their physical health, mental health, diet, family situations, etc. The popular proverb, “It takes a village” assumes new meaning in an environment where large teams of specialists meet once a month to focus on one patient at a time, examining every aspect of his life, including additional needs, any new dangers they could potentially pose to themselves or others. The outcome is the production of multiple-page care plans to keep patients and staff as safe as possible, as well as to prevent patients from relapsing moved forward on a positive trajectory toward healing.
“We do team nursing at this hospital,” Erin explains. “Applying every team member’s strengths is important because we all excel in different areas and when we all bring our respective strengths to the table, we can deliver the best care possible while letting everybody shine and exhibit their skills.”
Erin points out that it is also important to give RPNs the opportunity to learn and gain new skills. She was asked to take on the role of charge nurse, which is typically held by an RN in that environment, during the pandemic when her hospital was struggling with staffing shortages. As a result, she developed leadership skills and enhanced her confidence. Erin says she’s witnessed the confidence and skill level of her RPN colleagues increase as well and foresees their strength and capabilities continuing to climb in the future.
“We couldn’t live in a world without nurses,” she says, referring to many RPNs leaving the profession due to the hardships they continue to face. “Despite the current climate not being ideal right now, we must all continue to listen to our hearts and focus on our reasons for becoming nurses in the first place, such as our desire to provide care for our patients. Find your reason within and let that motivate you through the hard times.”