A practicum experience at RNAO: From evidence-based clinical care to evidence-based policy

Sarah Gallie recently completed her Master of Nursing degree at Ryerson University. In this article she recounts her practicum experience at RNAO’s policy department.

When I started the journey to complete my Master of Nursing at Ryerson University more than two years ago, I was looking for opportunities to expand my experiences of providing clinical care to patients and families at the bedside. Little did I know I would be completing my final practicum at RNAO amidst a global pandemic. 

When I enrolled at Ryerson, the courses I selected focused in leadership in health-care policy and education. I had previous experience working in nursing education and I had my mind set on continuing down that path. As I mapped out my program of study, I picked classes that mentioned education in the course description. To meet the program requirements, I also had to complete a course about health policy. Although I had previous experience participating in RNAO’s signature policy events such as Queen’s Park Day, and I had also responded to many of the association’s political action alerts, I could not have predicted how this course would flip my world upside-down. 

I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, engaged and passionate about the topics discussed in this course. I was able to share with my peers the details of my experiences with RNAO. I found that they too became more intrigued when hearing about a nurse’s experience engaging in health policy. I quickly started to question the courses I had left in my program of study. Perhaps I needed to rethink my path.

When I began thinking about securing a practicum experience, I met with my faculty advisor to discuss my options. I shared with her my plans to pursue a career in education, but also spoke about the experiences I had during the health policy course. She could sense the excitement in my voice and her advice was to push myself to explore a practicum experience that was outside of my comfort zone. 

Following her guidance, I connected with the policy department of RNAO about the possibility of a practicum opportunity. After a few email exchanges, I was heading down another fork in the road that I never imagined I would take. 

My practicum experience at RNAO afforded me opportunities I would never have had if I had not pushed myself outside the silo I had put myself in at the start of my Master of Nursing program. It is a decision I will never regret. Being immersed in the world of health and nursing policy on the macro level during COVID-19, I was able to witness policy priorities shift quickly towards a focus on advocacy for the health of all Ontarians during a crisis. 

The project I focused on during my practicum centred around engaging nurses to feel empowered as influential leaders in the political arena while leveraging the competencies and skills that are engrained in us as nurses. In reflecting back upon this experience, I have come to the realization that my passion for health policy emerged while sitting in a classroom and was further brought to life at RNAO.

Having come to the end of my practicum and ultimately my Master of Nursing, I am thankful to my Ryerson University professors, my faculty advisor, and to RNAO for all they have taught me about what it means to be a nurse and political advocate with a passion for health and nursing policy.

RNAO’s response: We are thankful you chose RNAO for your practicum, Sarah, and we know you will go places!