July 22, 2019

Nurses play a key role in transformation of health-care system, says past president of Canadian Nurses Association

50 Faces of Nursing: Barb Shellian, BN’79, MN’83
50 Faces of Nursing: Barb Shellian, BN’79, MN’83
50 Faces of Nursing: Barb Shellian, BN’79, MN’83

Nursing is a team sport, according to Barbara Shellian, where the value comes from collaborating with and learning from others.

“I learned that lesson being in the first Masters of Nursing class at UCalgary,” says Shellian, director, Rural Health Calgary Zone Alberta Health Services and past president of the Canadian Nurses Association. “I learned to think differently. Our class was small - only seven students. We became the best of friends and still continue to connect after all these years. That connection was facilitated by the mentorship and support that we received from the faculty: it was their first year with the program too and we were all in it together. When people say to me today ‘I like to work with you,’ much of that influence comes from lessons learned in that class.”

Being a team player has obviously contributed greatly to Shellian’s success. Focusing largely on rural nursing for her entire career, she has had to be a nursing generalist, establishing and maintaining positive relationships with key local, provincial and national representatives and health-care stakeholders including government departments.

“I have always been of the opinion that nursing is a political profession and have found ways and means to be involved in my professional associations and specialty groups for the past four decades,” she says. “This has enhanced my nursing practice and expanded my nursing network - across my province, my country and the world.”  

Currently she leads the operational teams at five rural communities and the health and community programs and services at each site varying from acute care, emergency, obstetrics, operating room, long term care, supportive living, urgent care and a primary care clinic.

“In addition, I act as a ‘hub’ and resource for communities in addressing local needs and service gaps with other community-based health-care services, including home care, public health, primary care, chronic disease management, allied health and addiction and mental health services utilizing an asset-based community development approach to rural health care delivery,” she explains.  

At the core of all she does, Shellian adds, is “a sense of community and wanting to make a difference. Health and health care is important to every person, family and community and it is a privilege for me to contribute to the delivery of health services and work with communities to improve their health status.”

Barb Shellian

Barb Shellian is currently director, Rural Health Calgary Zone Alberta Health Services.

What most excites you about the future of nursing or changes coming in the profession?

“Nurses are knowledge workers and the future is for knowledge workers. The significant contributions that nurses make to the health-care system and the well-being of all Canadians are the result of ethically applied knowledge, life-long learning, competence and dedication to patient safety. Nurses bring these skills and expertise to all aspects of health care: clinical, education, administration and research. Nursing practice continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of patients and clients. Innovation, resilience, flexibility, teamwork, communication and leadership are highly valued elements in nursing. Such skills and abilities provide the means to welcome change, navigate the future and thrive in a challenging knowledge-based work environment.

“Most people have had contact with a nurse. Nurses provide care for people in the midst of health, pain, loss, fear, disfigurement, dying, grieving, challenge, growth, birth, aging and transition. Nurses call this the privileged place of nursing: we are with people at their least inhibited and most intimate and vulnerable times to lend strength and support to those who require nursing care. People need nurses and nurses need people.”

Is there a nursing issue you are especially passionate about or you would like to change?

“I am passionate about the role of nurses in the transformation of the health-care system. We have the knowledge and skills to contribute to the health of Canadians in a very unique manner and we are the most trusted of all health-care professions – and we should never take that for granted. Our work does not end on our unit, in our hospital or in our community…our true work is to support the health of the nation considering all the determinants of health.”

What piece of advice would you like to share with aspiring nurses?

“Be authentic - you can only be yourself. Be prepared: be a life-long learner and be ready to put your hand up. Be courageous - never go by an open door; there may be the next big thing just inside.”

All through 2019, we'll be highlighting 50 Faces of Nursing and profiling outstanding nursing members in celebration of our 50th anniversary. If you know someone noteworthy (faculty, staff, alum, students, partners, etc.) who you would like us to feature, tell us more with this short online form. For more, visit nursing.ucalgary.ca/50