Governor General Gold Medal winner joins TWU nursing faculty

“I am committed to looking at how we can better serve marginalized people—those who are vulnerable in the health care system. My passion lies in bringing up a new generation of health care providers who understand how to set up care for them.”

Sheryl Reimer Kirkham, PhD, Associate Professor of Nursing,
Trinity Western University

Langley, British Columbia—Sheryl Reimer Kirkham is teaching Trinity Western University nursing students more than cold remedies and health care techniques. She’s teaching about policies, issues and situations that affect nurses in B.C.—and she knows what she’s talking about. She received the Governor General’s Gold Medal for her PhD research at the University of British Columbia on how ethnicity, race, gender and class affect the care nurses give. The medal is the highest academic award given in Canada and includes past recipients such as Pierre Trudeau, Adrienne Clarkson and Gabrielle Roy.

“New issues in nursing have stemmed from increased diversity in our communities,” says Reimer Kirkham, PhD, who joined TWU’s faculty as an associate professor of nursing this fall. “Education is one of the places where we can bring about positive change to address some of the issues identified in my research. That’s why I’m here.”

To prepare for her PhD dissertation, Making Sense of Difference: The Social Organization of Intergroup Health Care Provision, Reimer Kirkham spent months conducting interviews with nurses, patients and administrators, and observing interactions between nurses and patients in acute care settings.

“All of the hospitals where I conducted my research had strong policies in place about valuing diversity,” says Reimer Kirkham. “But there was a gap between stating the policies and actually having the time and resources to put those policies into practice. The nurses were aware of the policies, but were often forced to do only the basics because of time and resource constraints.”

Reimer Kirkham found that in hospitals lacking adequate resources such as language services, nurses were hampered by communication barriers which resulted in less effective care for non-English speaking patients. She also found that not only patients, but also nurses experienced challenges stemming from diversity. Reimer Kirkham recounts situations in which patients refused to be cared for by a nurse of a cultural background other than their own.

“It’s a difficult work situation that nurses are in because of this increased diversity, but also because of health care restructuring and downsizing, and now the nursing shortage,” says Reimer Kirkham. “It is very clear that most nurses are doing their best with the resources they have and that there are still some amazing connections being made between nurses and patients who come from very different backgrounds.”

Reimer Kirkham made several recommendations to improve health care services in a province as diverse as B.C. Those recommendations include making changes in health care policies at the provincial level, providing adequate resources and support at the organizational level, carrying out self-examination on the individual level, and taking a new approach to nursing education.

Her determination to take nursing education to a higher level brought Reimer Kirkham to TWU. “I am committed to looking at how we can better serve marginalized people—those who are vulnerable in the health care system,” says Reimer Kirkham. “My passion lies in bringing up a new generation of health care providers who understand how to set up care for them.”

This is not the first time Reimer Kirkham has shared her insights with TWU students. She served as a clinical instructor in 1996 and as an instructor in 1999. Reimer Kirkham believes that her dedication to serving those from diverse backgrounds fits well with the focus of her students at Trinity Western.

“The students here have a real heart for issues around diversity and a strong commitment to treat every person with dignity,” says Reimer Kirkham. “Such commitments are not always visible in today’s strained health care system, but they need to be a thread that is woven throughout the curriculum. If nursing students can come out with those understandings, take them into their practice and then into leadership positions, we will be moving in the right direction.”

Reimer Kirkham wants to give her nursing students more than just a practical edge. She wants to foster an enthusiasm for nursing scholarship—the same enthusiasm that helped her earn the Governor General’s Gold Medal. “I want my students to be thinking about the bigger issues that impact health care,” says Reimer Kirkham. “Nursing graduates from Trinity Western are well-respected by institutions who are at the heart of the health care system. I believe these students are going to take some important leadership roles and I want to contribute to their preparation so they are well-grounded and ready for the task.”

Trinity Western University, located in Langley, B.C., is a privately funded Christian liberal arts university enrolling 2,850 students this year. With a broad-based, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 34 major areas ranging from business, education and computer science to biology and nursing, and 12 graduate degrees including counselling psychology, theology and administrative leadership.

Last Updated: 2012-08-21
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