Lighting up lives
Shannon Smith, Practical Nursing student
Shannon Smith is a first year Practical Nursing student with a warm presence and a soft smile that lights up her face. She started Camosun’s Practical Nursing diploma program in September 2018, after completing the Indigenous Health Care Assistant (IHCA) certification last year and working in the field for six months. She continues to work part time as a health care assistant (HCA) while she takes classes at Camosun.
“I know I love this work because there are hard days, but there’s never a day that I don’t like,” Shannon says.
Shannon took a long journey to Camosun. Of Gitxsan and Tsimshian ancestry, she grew up in Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia, what she describes as “a little town at the end of the road.” After being bullied as a child and high school student, she went through a dark time and finally moved to Kamloops with her boyfriend when she was 22 to start over. Three years later, the couple relocated to Victoria, pulled by the call of the ocean and a desire to be closer to Shannon’s grandmother.
Through all these transitions, Shannon discovered that she had a passion for caring for people. “I’ve always been known as a caretaker,” she says. “Even during my troubled youth, my friends knew me as the ‘street mom.’ I was doing bad stuff, but I was also taking care of my friends.”
Once she landed in Victoria, Shannon spent time helping her grandmother and setting up her life in a new city. Then she found the IHCA program at Camosun. “Everything about the program felt right. And after I started classes, my grandmother told me that she had also worked as an HCA. When I showed her what I was learning, she was shocked at how much more HCAs are expected to know these days. She’s so proud of the path I’ve taken.”
Given her relationship with her grandmother, it’s no surprise that Shannon has a way of connecting with the elderly residents that she works with. She recalls a resident who would ask about her after she was moved to another floor. “When I was giving this resident a bath once, she told me how it usually made her uncomfortable, but she felt comfortable and safe when I was there. That’s what really makes me happy, that the residents feel like they’re being taken care of.”
But even the most generous caretaker needs to be taken care of now and then. One of the reasons her experience at Camosun has been positive is that it feels like family. She spends time in the Eyēʔ Sqȃ’lewen (Indigenous Education and Community Connections) offices on Lansdowne campus. “I’m a big introvert. I get anxious in crowds and being around so many students. So when I can’t deal with it, I chat with the ladies in Eyēʔ Sqȃ’lewen.”
As for her life beyond her Camosun education, Shannon feels optimistic and hopeful. She’s interested in furthering her education, by either becoming a Registered Nurse or Registered Psychiatric Nurse, or possibly working with Indigenous youth in some capacity. Whatever path Shannon chooses, her warmth, genuine care, and compassion will light up the lives of the people she works with.
This is part of a series of profiles of alumni and students from Camosun’s School of Health and Human Services, in support of the Together for Health campaign for The Alex & Jo Campbell Centre for Health and Wellness.