French language skills in primary care nursing put patients at ease
Nurse encourages fellow colleagues to keep expanding their capabilities
By Lindsay MacKenzie
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Monday, May 8, 2023
A change in work environments is what one Winnipeg nurse said she needed to reprioritize her well-being and reinvigorate her passion for healthcare. Nicole Prenovault is a registered nurse who worked on the frontlines in one of the city's busiest hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Late last year, she switched care settings while completing her master’s degree and now supports physicians in a primary care setting at the Winnipeg Clinic.
"There are some very triggering words and like ‘resiliency' is very triggering and like ‘hero' is very tricky," said Prenovault who works with five doctors as well as a physician's assistant, nurses and administrative staff in her new role and appreciates the flexibility primary care settings offer nurses.
"I talk to lots of people on the phone," said Prenovault. "If they’re not feeling well or if they have just general questions…sometimes I’ll just give people advice as they’re navigating through the health system, lots of immunizations, lots of well child checks with babies and toddlers."
The registered nurse decided to switch work settings to prioritize work-life balance. The Winnipeg Health Region employs more than 14,000 staff and is one of the province's largest employers. Health care professionals have a variety of site, program and service areas where they can continue to advance their careers through a variety of workplace environments.
"I took this job so that I could go home at the time that I’m supposed to go home. To be honest, I really like working in the hospital, I always have, but I just was really, really burnt out."
Prenovault takes care of administering immunizations and following up with patients to make sure that vaccinations schedules are up to date for infants and school-aged children.
Patients can call the doctor's office and Prenovault will review eligibility criteria with them.
It's all in the family when it comes to nursing skills
One of the primary influences to becoming a nurse came from watching her grandma and mom work as nurses. "I always saw it as a possibility growing up because I had people close to me doing that job of a nurse."
In one particular instance, Prenovault had a young cousin who was being looked after at the Children's Hospital and when she visited, noticed that a post-surgery draining bag was hanging off the bed.
"I remember thinking it was kind of hanging off the bed just above the ground, and I told the nurse, I thought it was pulling too much. She said to me, ‘you’re so right', and I remember thinking I was a genius."
But it wasn't until much later when Prenovault was in nursing school and had to be hospitalized for 10 days that she experienced the opportunity nurses have to make a meaningful difference everyday in the course of their jobs. "I just remember thinking of the people who made the difference to me and I wanted to make that difference for other people some day."
Actively offer French language for personalized care
The primary care clinic where Prenovault works welcomes many refugees and newcomers from French speaking countries in Africa. Her cultural identity as a French-Canadian and her upbringing prepared her to communicate with patients in the language they are most comfortable.
"If you grew up speaking French your whole life… it makes a very big difference [to speak in their mother tongue]. Patients just feel instantly more comfortable and like they can trust you."
Patients can ask for French language translation services at any Winnipeg Health Region site as part of the Active-Offer program which is dedicated to providing more individualized care.
"Everybody wants that in healthcare," said Prenovault. "It’s such a big system and there’s so much going on, but you just want someone to see you for who you are and if you can offer [a mother tongue language] that's very comforting."
The most difficult part of providing nursing support in a primary care setting is comforting patients as they wait for test results, diagnostic imagining or referrals that a physician may order as part of a care plan.
"I try to talk people and comfort them through that process. Everyone has a different understanding of the way the system works and I think a lot of us who work in healthcare take that for granted."
Along with providing compassionate care to patients, Prenovault explained that it is important for nurses to take care of their well-being too. "When I worked at St. Boniface Hospital for the internal medicine unit my manager was really good at listening to us and our concerns. It sucks when you don't have enough staff and that's what it comes down to most of the time."
Some helpful tips she offered was to speak with coworkers to get their advice on coping skills or ask them for helpful suggestions for adjusting a sleep schedule after the night shift.
Most importantly though, Prenovault encourages her nurse colleagues to take stock of their priorities regularly.
"You have to figure out what’s most important to you. To some people, it is work. For me, family and friends are number one, but you have to figure out where your priorities lie and then you figure out a way to carve your life out around that, and that’s what I did."
Prenovault hinted that she will return to the hospital environment again in the future, but for now is enjoying the opportunity gain a different sort of experience in the health care system.
"I’ve always moved around like every two years. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but that’s the way I’ve done it. I liked the variety of experiences I’ve gained. You learn a lot at every new job [and] in primary care I am seeing the way the system works even more."