Unlike many who decide upon nursing as a vocation, Carole Dixon didn’t always know what she wanted to do after she finished Grade 12. So, she decided to attend Grade 13 at Prince of Whales College in Charlottetown to continue her education and take some time to figure out which career path she should embark upon. Back then, in the early 1970s, the career choices for women seemed limited. Carole felt she could either be a secretary, a teacher or a nurse. She says she was too shy to be a teacher and being a secretary didn’t interest her. She vividly remembers noticing a poster on the wall at the College that read, “Be a Nurse!”. Since she already had some science courses behind her, Carole decided upon nursing school.
“There were days that I wondered why I made that decision, but I persevered and I am very glad I did,” says Carole.
She was eager to begin practicing when she graduated with the first class of 1972 from the PEI School of Nursing. She and a fellow graduate immediately joined an agency in England, moved into a nurses’ residence and subsequently worked for one year. After a very memorable and rewarding experience there, Carole made her way back to PEI in 1974 which marked the beginning of her career in long term care at Colville Manor in Souris.
Carole says she has seen “mega changes” clientele-wise over the years. “Most residents are at the tail-end of their days physically and mentally by the time they get placed in a long term care facility. An increase in Home Care nursing has contributed to this so most people are staying in their homes until they absolutely need to be in this type of environment.”
Carole enjoys being at the bedside as much as possible, but because she is the RN Supervisor who oversees the entire spacious facility, she must rely on her coworkers to ensure all of the residents are well looked after at any given time. “I am very dependent on my competent staff,” says Carole. “It would be impossible to keep our residents safe without the collaboration and dedication of my co-workers.”
She says the doctors rely on the Registered Nurses who, in turn, rely on LPNs and RCWs to provide direct care. There was a time when she was practicing acute care and was responsible for seven patients at a time. Now, she is responsible for 52 residents and must rely on all staff to help carry the workload. Colville Manor has four households with thirteen residents living in each. “It’s a good thing that I enjoy walking so much,” says Carole. “I get to do plenty of that while I work!”
Other aspects of her job have changed over the years as well. She says they used to document using only pen and paper; now the records are computerized. Equipment used to be re-usable and sterilized before each patient use; now her facility uses more disposable equipment. Working relationships have changed as well. Carole recalls that in the earlier days of her nursing career, nurses and other staff would stand up when a doctor entered the room; now there is less of a hierarchy and more of a team approach. All Registered Nurses used to wear white uniforms every day; now they wear white tops and black pants once a week at Colville Manor. Carole also wears her older white dress uniform once a month during her day shift for old times’ sake. “I really think the younger staff think I’m unfashionable when I wear that!”, she jokes.
The one thing that has not changed over time is that nurses still have an abundance of “heart” and Carole recognizes this quality in all of the nurses she has come to know. She says there are many caring and highly competent nurses practicing on PEI. “Nursing takes patience, especially in long term care. Many of the residents we care for have memory loss or dementia. They can’t change this, so it’s up to us to change. For example, they might sleep all day and be awake all night. It is what it is. We adapt.”
Carole has faith that the future of nursing will be positive and the young nurses of today will do “just fine.” She says there have always been struggles within the profession and it will be a learning process right to the very end. Her advice – “No matter what career you choose, just be good at it and treat people fair.”
Carole tries to heed her own advice and strives to be a great nurse by upgrading her skills on a regular basis through educational courses and seminars. She says attending these courses also gives her a chance to connect with other Registered Nurses from across the Island who practice in different types of nursing environments and work sites. “Because I’ve been doing one job for so long in the same facility and community, sometimes I feel like I’ve developed tunnel vision,” she laughs. “Meeting other nurses serves as a good reminder that yes, we are all different, but we do share many of the same problems and concerns.”
The petite, fit and bright-eyed RN says she also needs to remain physically strong in order to be adept at her job. She practices yoga and Pilates so she is able to lift and assist residents without injuring herself. She is also an avid gardener who enjoys biking in the summer and cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing in the winter months. The mother of three grown children, two sons and one daughter, Carole also makes spending time with family a priority.