The day before she retired from Okanagan College’s practical nursing program, Bev McNamara couldn’t help herself: In a lab full of would-be nurses anxious over the next day’s skills test, McNamara felt compelled to offer words of encouragement and advice as she departed.
“You will be fine,” she said, sporting her lab coat and her well-worn name tag. “Just remember to read.”
It wasn’t her class of students—for the first time in more than a decade, Bev won’t be around to see this cadre of caregivers graduate.
But the advice and warm words are hallmarks of an educator and nurse who has helped, nurtured and encouraged more than 850 Okanagan College and Okanagan University College students into careers in the region’s care settings.
McNamara’s history with the program dates back more than 45 years to 1965, when she enrolled in the College’s practical nursing program. Practice, interspersed with additional education, followed for the next three decades until the opportunity to teach nursing at the college beckoned in 1997.
With encouragement from colleagues in the hospital, McNamara turned part-time teaching into full-time, and by 2001 (with a bachelor of science degree in nursing now part of her curriculum vitae) she was into it full-time.
A decade later, she’s leaving the teaching world, her sights set on a change of pace and a distant continent. In her wake, an army of nurses who form a critical component of the health-care scene.
“I can walk into any facility in the region and see my graduates. It’s kind of cool,” she said. “What’s really cool, though, is they usually come up and hug me. They don’t walk away.”
One of McNamara’s long-time associates is Lori Jakins, an acute care manager at Interior Health, who works in Kelowna General Hospital, ward 4B, where McNamara spent considerable time before making the jump into the role of full-time educator.
Jakins acknowledges it will be different not having Bev around advocating for nurses and working with preceptors (practicing nurses who help educate students in real-world settings).
Theirs has been a long-time relationship that has been dominated by a mutual dedication to ensuring quality patient care and instilling pride and professionalism in those who want to be nurses.
“Those are going to be big shoes to fill,” said Jakins. McNamara’s dedication to the practical nursing program has been evident as the scope of practice for practical nurses expanded, and curricula had to be revamped and more material compressed into an already jam-packed program.
Even now, as the program length is about to be expanded, the challenge will be to accommodate the additional course material that nurses will be expected to know to pass the national exams.
It’s not just the program scope that has changed, either: The college has had dramatic increases in the number of nurses it educates.
At one point, there were three intakes annually in Kelowna alone (now it is back to two).
As chairwoman of the department, McNamara has overseen expansion of the program into Penticton, Salmon Arm and Vernon as well.
After nearly five decades in the profession, what observation does McNamara offer about the qualities of a good practical nurse?
“Caring, knowledge and perseverance. Applying critical thinking skills. An appetite for learning.”
McNamara’s commitment to the profession underpins her career and the relationships she has developed over decades.
To watch her at convocation, where pride of accomplishment blossoms into an emotional ceremony, you are tempted to think the hugs and tears are signaling that friendship is on the horizon, replacing the educator-student relationship.
Not the case. She doesn’t count former students among her friends—they are colleagues. Valued, respected, but colleagues only. It’s what the profession demands.
It may sound a little cool, but for those who have had the benefit of working with her, learning from her, or graduating from the programs McNamara has administered, there can’t be any argument with an approach that has worked so well for so many, and ultimately benefited so many patients.