What do Manhattan, Mexico City and Qaanaap, Greenland, have in common? A crow leaving any of these centres would travel fewer kilometres getting to Lethbridge than would a driver making the trip from Inuvik, N.W.T. And yet that’s just what Corrections student Josh Campbell and his family do at least once each year.
“I was one of those people who just jumped into a job and started working after high school,” says Campbell, who grew up in Inuvik and worked as a labourer, power lineman, heavy equipment operator and builder before coming to the college in 2015. But “just spur of the moment,” he and his wife had the idea to return to the classroom.
They applied to several post-secondary institutions in Western Canada and were thrilled when they were accepted to learn in Lethbridge – she at the university and he at the college.
They have found the southern Alberta city to be an ideal home for their family, including their four children. “Lethbridge is not too big of a city, but it’s not too small,” he explains. “It’s easy to get around. You trust the people a little more here than you would in Calgary or Edmonton. But still, because it’s a small city, you have so much more to do – for the kids and for the family especially.”
Campbell is part of a small but significant part of the Lethbridge College community – students who come here from Northern Canada to pursue higher education. While some stay south of the 60th parallel after graduation, many return home to work in the communities where they were raised, taking their newfound knowledge, hands-on experiences and memories of chinooks and sunshine with them to build and give back to their hometowns. “Lethbridge College is proud to host a diverse community of students from across Canada and beyond,” says Nicole Hembroff, the college’s recruitment and communications coordinator.
“Whether they choose to stay in Lethbridge after they graduate or use their newly developed skill sets elsewhere, we are thrilled to have made an impact on their lives.”
Donna Dornian, Jennifer Madley, Brenda Mattson and Emilie Nugent are four of more than a dozen Lethbridge College nursing grads to work at Whitehorse General Hospital.
Walk down the halls of Whitehorse General Hospital, and you’re likely to run into nurses who came to Lethbridge College to get their training.
More than a dozen of the practical nurses and registered nurses working at the hospital in this city of 25,000 travelled nearly 2,500 kilometres to Lethbridge College to earn their credentials. Donna Dornian is one of them. She grew up in an RCMP family, moving to detachments in Manitoba, the Yukon and Northwest Territories before settling in Whitehorse. In 1985, she earned her Licensed Practical Nurse credential from Yukon College and, 18 years later, decided to return to school to become a registered nurse. She said she chose Lethbridge College and the Nursing Education in Southern Alberta program because “I had lived several years on the prairies and thought it would be less of a culture shock.”
Dornian says she has many wonderful memories of her time at the college. “I made several good friends while doing my RN at Lethbridge College, classmates with whom I still keep in touch,” she says. “One of the best memories I have is seeing the horses exercising in the mornings at the race track when I would drive in from Coaldale, where I lived for the time I was going to school.” She also remembers – and is grateful to – instructors like Joyce D’Andrea and Isabel Wilde and counsellor Marcia Taylor. But when her studies were complete in 2005, she was happy to return to Whitehorse.
“There were just lots of different work opportunities – and it is home,” she says. “Although I missed Alberta terribly for a long time after I came back, and whenever I visit.”
Today she works on the medical ward, which also houses pediatrics, the intensive care unit and the psychiatric area, and since 2009, has been teaching at Yukon College with the Health Care Attendant program and as a clinical instructor with the LPN program, which is a collaborative effort with Bow Valley College.
There are challenges working in a remote community, Dorian says. “There are fewer support staff – no porters, respiratory techs, patient care assistants or 24-hour pharmacists. The buck stops with the nurse. But the Yukon does have a comprehensive First Nations health support program, which makes a vast difference having worked in the past without one. And it’s satisfying being closer to decision-making and having the opportunities to be directly involved in making changes.”
Dornian says she would encourage other northern students to make the same journey she did. If they do, they should “get to know and enjoy the cultures of the ‘Sunny South’ and travel a bit in the area.”
Emilie Nugent says she would encourage other northern students to consider Lethbridge College.
Jennifer Heynen Madley also grew up in Whitehorse and did just that when she came to the college in 2003. “I chose the program for its small class sizes and because of the collaboration between the college and university,” she says. “I felt more comfortable beginning my post-secondary education at a smaller campus.”
Jillian Paré says she decided to come to the college because “I had heard lots of positive opinions about the programs offered and because the size of Lethbridge wasn’t too overwhelming for me, moving from a small city like Whitehorse.” Paré grew up in Whitehorse and came to the college in 2010. Two years later, Emilie Nugent made the same choice. She said she came to the college because “I heard the nursing program was phenomenal and I had never been.”
Nugent says she loved her time in southern Alberta, but was eager to return home at the end of her program. “I am from the Yukon, my family is here, I love winters, I love the lifestyle and I missed the lifestyle,” she says. “And I work with a great team here on the west unit of Whitehorse General Hospital. So many travel nurses come here to work and it’s amazing to get to meet so many new faces and hear so many new stories.”
Nugent would strongly encourage other northern students to consider coming to Lethbridge College for their postsecondary education. “I have recommended the program to many students before,” she says. “It was a great program and a great place to go to school. I learned a lot while I was at the college and always felt included, and I made many friends, considering there were people from everywhere who went to the college.”
Paré says she initially intended to stay in Alberta after graduation, but couldn’t find a job. “I came home to Whitehorse and immediately got work as a casual nurse at a long-term care facility called the Thomson Centre. I knew the Yukon had great opportunities for nurses with there being lots of work here.”
Compassionate coworkers and meaningful work keep Paré happy with her choice of both profession and location. “I work in an amazingly supportive environment. The model of care within continuing care in the Yukon allows me to feel like I am able to provide the best care possible to the residents I care for and their families.”
Like her colleagues and fellow alumnae, Madley made great friends during her time at the college and says several classmates remain her closest friends today, despite being scattered across the provinces. “They’re still the people I call to share exciting news, or when I need support,” she says. But when she met her husband, a fellow Yukoner, between the third and fourth year in the program, she says “there was little doubt in my mind that Whitehorse was where I wanted to be.
“The Yukon is a great place to grow up, to raise a family, and to balance work and play,” she says. “I love cross-country skiing, and working here allows me to do the things I love from my backyard. I can get off a night shift, go for a ski while the sun rises, and still get enough rest before picking up my little ones. It’s a pretty amazing place to live!”
Madley says there are some unique challenges of working in health care in a remote location. Nurses have to be knowledgeable in many areas – working with surgical, post-operative, palliative and post-partum patients depending on the day. “We’re a small hospital so I’ve had to learn how to wear many different hats throughout the day,” she says. “Our physical distance from larger hospitals can also be a challenge.”
But she says she likes the variety, and it keeps work interesting. And she definitely would recommend that other northern students consider heading south for their studies.
“Growing up in a city the size of Whitehorse, it’s intimidating to leave to attend college or university,” she explains. “Lethbridge is big enough to get an excellent education, but not so big that the thought of moving there overwhelmed me. I looked at other programs in Alberta, but couldn’t imagine attending a university whose population exceeded that of my hometown!”
Jennifer Madley says some of her former classmates have turned into lifelong friends.
Campbell, Paré, Madley, Dornian and Nugent are part of a small but mighty group of Lethbridge College students and alumni – those who call the north home. During the last five years, more than 100 students from the Yukon and more than 250 students from the Northwest Territories applied to the college, and a total of 280 students from the two territories attended classes. While the college doesn’t yet have specific recruiting trips planned to the Yukon, they are working with an Alberta group to make a trip to communities in the Northwest Territories in the next year or two.
“We’re seeing that we’re getting steady numbers from the Northwest Territories and we are hoping to expand upon that,” says Hembroff. Some of the programs provide great fits to students who may want to return to their home communities, including conservation enforcement, healthcare and programs that focus on food sustainability. A number of factors make the college an ideal destination for those who look to head south for their post-secondary education, Hembroff adds.
“Unlike some of the larger colleges and universities, Lethbridge College has a real community kind of feel to it,” says Hembroff. “It feels homey when you get here. You’re still getting this high-quality education but also have this great support. For people coming from smaller centres, it’s far less intimidating to come to Lethbridge College.”
In addition, the college provides a Circle of Services for Indigenous students, with a devoted Indigenous coordinator, career and academic advisor and recruiter, as well as special events throughout the year. With 50 per cent of people from the Northwest Territories and 25 per cent of people from the Yukon identifying as First Nations, Métis or Inuit, Hembroff explains that those additional services can “provide cultural support and set students up for educational success.”
“So far, I’ve found Lethbridge College to be very easygoing. The students are all kind of open and honest and it’s easy to say hello. I kind of like being the older student in the class." - Josh Campbell
Campbell has taken advantage of those additional services during his years at Lethbridge College. He is Gwich’in, one of the Athabaskan-speaking First Nations people of Canada, and his wife is Inuvialuit, one of the Inuit people who live in the western Canadian Arctic region.
“Marcia [Black Water, the college’s Indigenous Services coordinator] is great,” he says. “Her door is open whenever you need her, and she’s always trying her best to answer whatever question you might have.” He says he spends most of his time on campus – when he’s not in classes, of course – in the college’s Niitsitapi Gathering Place, a centre for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and the home of the Indigenous Services coordinator and the Indigenous Cultural Support Program.
“So far, I’ve found Lethbridge College to be very easygoing,” he says. “The students are all kind of open and honest and it’s easy to say hello. I kind of like being the older student in the class – I like how some of the instructors will use me to give an example or ask if I have anything to add to their teachings during class, since I’ve more likely been there and done that.”
Campbell says their time in Lethbridge has provided some unexpected opportunities as well.
“I love how it has opened up so many other doors for my kids and for myself,” he says. “I’m back playing hockey again in a men’s league. I haven’t played contact in 18 years and it’s nice to get back into that. It’s tough and hard going, but that’s hockey for you. And my oldest, he’s 13, it’s opening up some doors for him too, and gives him a chance to play hockey as well. My 10-year-old has just gotten in to basketball and it’s his first time being a part of a team. My girl is a little special. She has some significant delays and is really picking up a lot of words. And our littlest, he’s slowly getting into sports too. But he’s our little traditional child. It’s all about back home. He loves hunting and being outdoors.”
Campbell then describes how, on a recent winter’s day, the family was walking through a parking lot to get to a store and a flock of geese flew over them. “The little one looks up and sees them and starts calling to them – back home when you go geese hunting you have certain calls to bring the geese down. Then the others joined him and there we all were, standing there in that parking lot, calling the geese, with everyone walking by and wondering just what was going on,” he says with a laugh.
After graduation, he will likely get back to hunting geese in Inuvik. While he and his wife will consider applying for jobs in southern Alberta, “we will definitely apply back home for sure, too,” he says. “If you can bring education back home and better your community, then why not, right?”