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Student in nurse practitioner program wins award for excellence

Nov 14, 2017
Guylaine Spencer

Leanna McCallum

Above: Leanna McCallum (left) and Dr. Nancy Carter (right)

Graduate student Leanna McCallum has won the Dr. Marilyn A. Ray Award for Excellence in Nurse Practitioner Education and Practice.

The award was established in 2009 by the Ray family, and it is granted to a student enrolled in the Nurse Practitioner Program, or a faculty member who teaches in the Nurse Practitioner Program, who demonstrates excellence. It is awarded by the Faculty of Health Sciences on the recommendation of the Assistant Dean of the Nursing Graduate Program.

McCallum just completed her Masters degree in the Science of Nursing with the specialty focus of Primary Health Care Nurse Practitioner. She took the prize for earning top marks in her class. She and her fellow students are now awaiting their licensing results and then it’s on to searching for work as a Nurse Practitioner (NP).

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, McCallum explains that the NP role is “an advanced practice nurse. It’s a step beyond an RN with respect to educational preparation and clinical experience. You’re able to make a diagnosis and form a therapeutic plan consisting of both pharmacological prescriptions and non-pharmacology recommendations -- so for example, orthotics, physiotherapy or occupational therapy. The role requires increased autonomy in decision-making and patient care, while still valuing the importance of physician and interdisciplinary collaboration.”

Primary Health Care (PHC) nurse practitioners can work in a wide range of settings, including community health centres, family health teams, family doctors offices, or emergency wards. “With the PHC specialization, it lets you work with all age groups, from birth to death,” says McCallum. “This was a big draw for me because I wanted to continue to do that.”

McCallum did her nursing degree, a BScN, through McMaster’s Accelerated program. She then worked for three years in an emergency department at Cambridge Memorial Hospital before returning to school.

The NP program takes two years to complete. “Typically the first year addresses the Masters component, which heavily focuses on critical appraisal and evidence-based research,” says McCallum, “whereas the second year incorporates courses specific to the NP program. My favourite course was Health Assessment and Diagnosis – I liked how signs and symptoms collected during an assessment reflect pieces of a puzzle that can be arranged to uncover and diagnose patients.”

McCallum had the chance to gain hands-on experience at four clinical placements, two in family health teams, one in an emergency ward and one in an NP-led clinic.

“With any program, they’ll tell you it’s a lot of work. Well, this definitely was! However, the clinical aspect was rewarding when you witness positive changes that occur after applying what you have learned in class and through independent study,” she says. “The NP program is great in that it works in mysterious ways... When you’re in it, you wonder, how am I ever going to learn everything? But by the end, you find yourself shocked with the amount of information you have absorbed to support your transition into practice as a novice NP. You also realize that when you don’t know something, you know where to look for the answer. This is such an important quality for a new NP.” 

Nancy Carter is the Assistant Dean, Graduate Nursing Programs. “Leanna is an excellent student and achieved excellent grades,” she says. “The program is challenging, particularly in the second year when students are balancing heavy theoretical content and extensive practicum hours in the community.  Leanna should be proud of her achievement and whoever hires her as an NP will be fortunate to have such hardworking person on the team.”


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