Tania Strong, RPN, is the inaugural recipient of the 2022 WeRPN Award of Excellence in Mental Health. She is described as an incredible leader who has a special ability to de-escalate situations almost immediately, diffusing any tension with her mere presence.
Tania Strong was working as a custodian for a private school in Belleville when she decided to trade-in her custodial tools for a chance to go back to school herself to become a nurse. “It was important to me to get a post-secondary education and a career and be a good example for [my kids],” she says. And so, with her employer’s support, Tania was able to attend Loyalist College in Belleville, Ontario, where she graduated from the Practical Nursing program in 2011.
While undergoing her consolidation, Tania worked for four weeks on the surgical floor and four weeks in mental health. That experience enabled her to see the connection between mental health and different kinds of nursing care. “It doesn’t matter what type of nursing you do; you always need to bring a mental health perspective to whatever you’re doing,” she explains.
Tania was recently promoted to clinical manager at the Belleville and Quinte West Community Health Centre where she focuses on trauma-informed care. Last fall, she was recognized as the inaugural recipient of WeRPN’s Award of Excellence in Mental Health. Tania describes being initially overwhelmed when she found out about the award. “I do sometimes have a hard time taking credit for doing something a lot of nurses were already during COVID-19,” she humbly states. “But I felt very honoured to win that award.”
Taking a holistic approach to healthcare
In her role as BQWCHC, Tania supports patients who have experienced different kinds of trauma. As she explains, trauma can result from emotionally harmful events or circumstances, such as neglect, homelessness, or gender transitioning. Emotional trauma can also result from physical incidents, including domestic violence and accidents. Therefore, no matter the type of trauma, the patient’s mental health is affected, and taking a holistic approach to care is essential. “It’s all connected,” says Tania. “You have to look at a person as a whole.”
Tania’s techniques for handling patients who have experienced trauma and/or mental health challenges include remaining calm. Her colleague describes her as having the ability to de-escalate situations almost immediately, diffusing any tension with her mere presence. “She actively listens to her patients’ concerns and promotes mental health awareness by identifying local resources.”
Tania emphasized the importance of listening to patients. “You really need to listen to understand. You also need to ask questions and meet the person where they’re at,” she says. “It’s not about where I’m at; it’s about where they’re at and what their goals are. We might see things differently, so you need to find out what that client’s patient-centeredlooks like directly from the client.”
The joy of nursing
Tania is a very proud RPN, but she advises that one has to be passionate about the work to become a nurse. “It can be a really tough job,” she says. “Some days you might cry, but other days, it is just so rewarding! And there’s always so much to learn; it’s never the same every day.”
She also loves the human connection — especially supporting people who are vulnerable and advocating for clients — and working in a collaborative team. Tania also appreciates the diversity of nursing; there are so many different avenues RPNs can pursue, and she is hoping that her recent promotion inspires other RPNs. “I never thought that I would be doing a management role — and loving it,” she exclaims. “I’m thrilled that I have the opportunity to do this and am hoping that maybe other RPNs can see that too.”
Tania immediately embraced her new responsibilities as manager, including supporting her staff to ensure they are happy and doing whatever she can to help retain them. “Managers are here to support the staff, so we need to listen,” she says. “We do need to have an open door and as much flexibility as possible.”
She also says it’s important to acknowledge that we might not always have great days, and on those days especially, nurses need to “come together as a team; nurses supporting nurses.”
As much as she loves her new role, Tania also believes that everybody in the healthcare system plays an important part. “I really believe that everybody has a role,” she states. “It doesn’t matter what you do; you need the housekeeping staff, you need the PSWs, you need the nurses and the doctors, you need everyone! It takes a whole system to help those who need help and to move this healthcare system forward.”
The Importance of Self-Care
Tania also takes the time to look after her own mental health. “Self-care can look different for each person,” she says. “It can be as simple as walking the dog; it can be connecting with an old friend; it can be going for a manicure; and getting sleep!” She also promotes the use of mindfulness apps, which can include positive affirmations, relaxation techniques, soothing sounds and other tools to help one relax.
At a time when pandemic restrictions are being lifted and people are feeling pressured to go out and do things, Tania offers an especially helpful piece of advice: “Boundaries are important. If you don’t feel like going out on the weekend, don’t go. It’s ok to say no.”