Two Aurora College nursing students will get the unique chance of experiencing how nursing is offered elsewhere in the circumpolar world. 

Marisa McArthur, 36, and Rebecca Baxter, 26, both third-year students at the Bachelor of Science nursing program at the college were selected earlier this year to take part in a seven-week exchange program starting in April that will have them working at the Arctic University of Norway in the city of Tromso. 

Third year nursing students Rebecca Baxter, left, and Marisa McArthur will be heading to Tromso, Norway as a cultural exchange with the nursing program there. The two are fundraising and hoping to share with the community ideas that can be used in to better nursing practice here in the NWT.
Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

Both applied for the exchange with the university in the fall of 2019.  

Because the exchange program at Aurora College is very small and does not receive outside funding, students involved are expected to raise the money for the Norway trip.

They are currently fundraising for the trip through social media to support basic costs, including airfare, tuition, housing, as well as living expenses, such as bus passes and groceries. During their time in Tromso, they will be working in a home care environment and the university hospital’s triage unit.

In an interview on Sunday, McArthur and Baxter said their fundraising efforts began around the end of November and financial support can be shared with their Facebook group “Improve northern healthcare services by helping local students.”

Baxter, who is from Inuvik and McArthur, who is from Yellowknife with family in Fort Smith, are aiming to raise about $15,000 in total. 

Tromsø is in the northern part of Norway.
photo screenshot sourced from Google Maps

Because Tromso is in the far northern part of Norway, much like Yellowknife and northern Canada, prices for items can be quite expensive, they said. Cost estimates came from asking students who have taken part in the exchange to Norway over the last two years, they added.

“A lot of students are mature students with families and so the cost to go is quite expensive,” said McArthur.
“So I think that eliminates the option for some people.

“Rebecca and I decided to go the fundraising route whereas others (past exchange students) in the past have worked and raised funds on their own.” 

As of Jan. 21, the two had raised about $9,500 of the $15,000 goal, through social media, an online auction and financial donations from friends and family and other supporters. 

Advocating for improved Indigenous health care delivery

Both are hoping that the experience will broaden their understanding of how to provide nursing to patients, particularly Indigenous patients.

“I’m really excited about learning the culture in Norway but also their health care system,” said Baxter. “I’m hoping I can take away from it something that I can share with my community and be able to learn how Norway integrates their culture in everything in there. I would really like to integrate the northern cultures more into our health care.”

McArthur said that seeing how Indigenous people in Norway – namely the Sami culture – are treated within their health care system will be a benefit in how they assist Indigenous people in the NWT system. She sees an increasing need for “advocacy” in the role of nursing, she said.

“I think a place within nursing that is near and dear to both of our hearts is Indigenous health,” said McArthur, said noting that her husband and children are both Indigenous.

“Just seeing the disparities (with Indigenous health) is really disheartening at times and so although being in Norway is completely different from here, I think it will help us when we are back here (learning) how they deal with language barriers and cultural differences. We hope to be able to see how they treat their Indigenous populations within the health care systems and what they do to promote Indigenous health or traditional healing.”

Gloria Bott, nursing instructor and lead faculty member for International Nursing Exchange program at Aurora College, said that the program was first started in 2010 under Dr. Pertice Moffitt. After a hiatus between 2013 and 2016 due to changes in Norway’s nursing program, the program started again thereafter with two Aurora College students.

Bott said that nursing students who have taken part in it in the past, are doing so as part of an effort to keep up with the evolving nature of the nursing discipline and to enrich health delivery in the North.

Since the fall of 2017, two health care students from Norway have also come to Yellowknife as part of the student exchange.

I would say that Dr. Moffitt was visionary at the time (in 2010) to be thinking that northern Norway and here in Yellowknife have lot of similarities,” she said of the two health care systems. “In so many ways. We have a lot to learn from each other in providing providing health care in northern and remote contexts.

Bott said the biggest gains will be in line with nursing’s emphasis on “cultural safety” and ensuring that practitioners are responsive to the individual needs of Indigenous people, who make up roughly 50 per cent of the NWT population.

“The idea of culturally safe care is something that is really revving up in the health care world and definitely in nursing,” she said, noting that the GNWT has recognized its importance as well. “It is really about providing people with the individualized care that they need in facilitating health and well-being.”

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

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