For her placement this semester, fourth-year Queen’s University nursing student Jacqueline McQuaig is working as a student nurse with patients on the multi-organ transplant unit at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto.
She secured the much-coveted position by working closely with her course co-ordinator at Queen’s and ensuring that her application emphasized her extensive volunteer work, professional experience and personal interests.
“I’ve always wanted to work at SickKids because it’s a global leader in the field of pediatric research, education and care,” says McQuaig.
“Staff members truly understand the importance of integrating families as valued partners in children’s care.”
She is paired up with a registered nurse in her unit who acts as her instructor. They share the same schedule and patients, with 12-hour shifts assigned on days, nights, weekdays or weekends. SickKids’ nurses are able to create their own work schedules.
Although she couldn’t be happier with her placement, McQuaig admits that she didn’t always have her heart set on nursing. “My own life journey was changed forever when I lost my beloved dad to colon cancer in 2006, just as I was entering my first year at Queen’s University. Having experienced the care and compassion of a medical team during his illness, I decided to switch to the nursing program so that I could dedicate my life to helping others, too.”
Today, she works with children ranging in age from one month to 17 years. The multi-organ transplant unit is generally comprised of patients who are suffering from very complex health problems. “My role is to provide holistic, family-centred nursing care to patients. This involves not only caring for the children’s physical needs, but their emotional needs as well as those of their family members,” she says.
The position sounds challenging, but McQuaig is more than qualified. She has volunteered as a camp counsellor for a non-profit organization, Camp Cucumber, for the past eight summers. She credits this experience as one that helped her realize her passion for working with kids.
However, she’s the first to say that nursing critically ill children is not always an easy task. “Although I feel overwhelmed at times, I’m fortunate enough to have a very supportive team that is keen to educate and support me throughout the learning process.”
According to McQuaig, the most rewarding part of being a nursing student at SickKids is “having the privilege of working with an excellent team while making a difference in the lives of sick children.”
When asked about the most challenging part of her job, she says “it’s a combination of adjusting to shift work, learning new procedures and managing your emotions when you’re working with kids who have serious health complications.”
For nursing students seeking internship advice, McQuaig recommends that you “get enough rest, eat properly and incorporate exercise into your daily routine.” She makes sure to ask questions at every opportunity and learn from her mistakes, and so far, it’s paid off.
Following her graduation from Queen’s this spring, McQuaig plans to work as a registered nurse for two years and return to school to become a nurse practitioner. “Ideally, I’d love to travel to a developing country with an established charitable organization, such as Doctors Without Borders or Operation Smile,” she says.
“I consider myself truly lucky to have found my passion in a field full of heroes. From the talent and committed staff at SickKids to the patients and their families, I am inspired everyday by their faith, hope and courage.”