Career Profiles:
Sue Struth, RPN

Sue Struth graduated as an RPN from Conestoga College in 2009. Soon after, in 2010, she began working at the college part-time as a practice application specialist before transitioning to teaching full-time in 2016.

Sue plays a pivotal role in shaping the next generation of healthcare professionals by guiding nursing students in their second and third semesters. She has a palpable sense of pride and inspiration when she discusses the nursing profession. Her mix of intelligence, optimism and insightful perspectives all make her an exemplary facilitator for aspiring nurses.

“I have the honour of bringing semester-two nursing students for their first clinical placement in long-term care,” she explains. “It’s exciting for me to watch the students really grow and shine … To be able to provide care and facilitate their unique needs in long-term care is empowering! It’s a great opportunity to watch them grow.”

Her dynamic teaching style comes to life in the lab environment for third-semester nursing students focusing on acute care. Beyond her contributions to the nursing curriculum, Sue has embarked on an exciting journey as an instructor in the Personal Support Worker (PSW) program, further expanding her commitment to fostering excellence in healthcare education. “I love being able to empower people and facilitate their entry into this amazing profession,” she exclaims.

Sue achieved the distinction of being the inaugural RPN recipient of WeRPN’s esteemed Excellence in Research award.

“It was a huge honour and was completely unexpected,” says Sue, whose project focused on the role of RPNs working in LTC homes. To determine whether nursing educational programs are appropriately equipping new nurses with the requisite knowledge, skills and judgment necessary to meet the diverse needs of LTC settings. She also sought to dispel the myth that RPNs working in LTC inevitably experience skill degradation.

After conducting in-depth interviews with ten professionals in various positions in LTC, Sue’s project found that RPNs in the sector retain their skills and also apply a range of capabilities, demonstrating proficiency in areas such as leadership and wound care.

“It was really empowering to see what RPNs’ roles, scope of practice and responsibilities are in long-term care,” she says.

Prior to joining the college full-time, Sue served as a dedicated wound care and ostomy nurse within the community. However, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she transitioned to a pivotal role at the LTC facility where she guides her students during clinical placements. Initially tasked with administering PCR swabs, Sue swiftly showcased her ability to embrace leadership responsibilities assuming the role of Wound Care Lead.

“Everybody that I’ve spoken to loves working in long-term care,” she says. “They feel empowered, important and valued, not just by the home in which they work, but also by the residents and their families. There is not one person out of the ten I spoke with who had a negative experience in LTC, apart from the challenges nurses in every sector were facing during the pandemic, such as time restrictions, understaffing and burnout.”

Regardless of the challenges, Sue is amazed by how many of her students who conducted their clinical placements at the LTC home during the pandemic ended up applying there afterwards. “Some students are even working at the home in a PSW capacity until they complete the nursing program,” she exclaims.

Sue attributes this to students’ ability to experience working in LTC during their clinical placements or as part of a bridging program, like BEGIN. In her unwavering commitment to mentoring and shaping the next generation of nurses, Sue unveils the profound and rewarding opportunities that await within this fulfilling career path, particularly in LTC. “It’s such a valuable experience, not just as a nurse, but also as a person,” says Sue. “We are invited to be a part of these older Ontarians’ lives and we have the honour and unique ability to be part of their last moments on Earth. That is a beautiful thing to be invited to be part of and should be cherished. Working in LTC enables nurses to develop such unique relationships, not only with the residents and their families but also with their teams…you don’t realize how wonderful of an experience it is.”

Reflecting on her career, Sue considers the diverse career paths and extensive opportunities available to practical nurses. “I think there is a stigma among RPNs that to advance your career, you have to go into a degree program,” admits Sue. “But when I look at all of the things I’ve accomplished as an RPN, it makes me feel so proud and honoured to be an RPN! I don’t want to go and get my degree because I’m proud of who I am, what I’ve done and what I continue to do.” Throughout her 13-year tenure at the college, Sue has also inspired her students to pursue the numerous possibilities open to RPNs and has also played a significant role in shaping who they have become as nurses. “I am so very proud of each and every one of them,” she says.

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