Well, my friends. I have officially just finished my latest travel contract…number FOUR! I must like this whole travel nursing thing! This past month, I completed a short three week contract all the way over in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. I was holding out for a contract by the ocean and I finally got one! I was so excited to be on the very West coast of Canada and explore the area in between working shifts at the local hospital there.
Prince Rupert is the wettest place in Canada…it’s cloudy almost every day out of the year and it rains around 240 days of the year giving it the nickname “The City of Rainbows”. It rarely snows which is a nice change of December weather for me! There’s around 12,000 people who live here and it was funny enough once the Halibut Capital of the World; a huge fishing industry is here. The Port of Prince Rupert is North America’s closest port to Asia by up to three days sailing—it’s 36 hours closer to Shanghai than Vancouver and over 68 hours closer than Los Angeles. Pretty neat! The harbour is the deepest in North America and is ice-free year round which keeps the city very busy with the import/export industry. Other industries here include the Coast Guard, railway, forestry, grizzly bear sanctuary and tourism. Cruise ships stop here regularly on the way up to Alaska in the summer months and it is a common occurrence to see WHALES in the harbour (but December is not the time to see them). Sadly I was not here during peak season, so it was pretty chill everywhere but I still had an incredible experience and I am excited to share it with you!!
On December 1st, I began the long day of flights to PR starting with a 5:00 am flight from Thunder Bay to Toronto, a 5 hour flight to Vancouver, then a quick 1.5 hour flight to Prince Rupert. I had a nice long layover in Vancouver for which I’m very thankful to get a free lounge pass with my Visa card!
The PR airport is on an island so once I landed, I had to take a ferry to the mainland followed by a shuttle to downtown Prince Rupert. Unfortunately, it was dark by the time I arrived so I didn’t get a very good view of the city while I was getting into town. I hired a taxi to take me to my accommodations, which was actually a motel room with a kitchenette for the first couple of weeks. (The last week I moved into the residence that the hospital provides for their agency nurses). I unpacked and got settled in, went to get some groceries, and the next morning I started my one day of orientation!
On Google maps, it showed a 10 minute walk from my motel to the hospital. What it didn’t show was that this ten minute walk included walking straight up an enormous flight of stairs. The hospital is located up on a mountain, basically. This was a hilarious surprise at 0630 on my first day. Let’s just say I saved some money on a gym membership this month as doing the stairs on a daily basis was plenty of cardio for me. I counted the steps…120 of them!! The hospital was a lot bigger than I was expecting it to be. It’s 5 floors high but everything medical in this town is located here including doctor’s offices and all administration. There is no walk-in clinic in town so this is it as far as health services are concerned. It’s also a regional facility so all surrounding areas and fly-in communities come here for health care if needed.
My orientation was one 12 hour day shift and it was plenty for me. I’m getting used to the whole one-shift orientation thing by now. Once you accept that you have one day and one day only, you realize you have to ask as many questions as you can and soak up everything in that one day. Obviously you can still ask questions from then on, but this is your chance to know where everything is and learn how they do things.
I worked on the Primary Care Unit, or PCU, and it was a little different than I’m used to as far as the patient population goes. There’s 20-25 beds and it’s basically a medical/surgical/palliative/psych unit all in one with the maternity unit attached. You work closely with the maternity nurses as they help out PCU when there are no moms in labour or when PCU is short staffed. I also helped out in maternity a couple times which was really different for me. The biggest difference for me, however, was having psych patients on my unit. I’m used to psych patients being on a completely separate floor. In PCU here, it’s all mixed in and there are two lock-up rooms where the high risk psych patients go. I was a bit uneasy about this as I really have very little psych training but thankfully I never had to take a lock-up patient in my 12 shifts there.
I really loved the facility minus two main issues I had. The first thing that concerned me was safety of the staff. This hospital has no security. I think that’s a critical resource for staff to use in numerous situations. Maybe I’m spoiled back in Thunder Bay being able to call security for any thing I need, really. But when you’re caring for patients who are mentally unstable or intoxicated with unpredictable behaviours, I think it’s really important to have that sense of safety for your staff. If they have any issues here, they call the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and hopefully they come quick.
The other issue, or complaint really, that I had was the patient to staff ratios here. It’s the most I’ve ever had but it’s the “norm” here for staff to have six patients on a day shift, sometimes seven or eight if there’s a sick call. On night shift, it never bothered me because six on a night shift is normal for me. On a day shift, I’m used to having four patients, maybe five MAX if there’s no workload. When I was the RN on the surgical team here, I felt like I was drowning almost every shift with six acute patients plus having to administer all IV medications for the LPN paired with me. Thankfully every single shift I worked, I was with AMAZING nurses who helped me immensely. The staff is so team oriented here and I think that was my favourite part about working in Prince Rupert. I could be having the busiest shift but it always went so much smoother because of the great people working alongside me. I would totally return for another contract here but I would for sure wait until they had a health care aid or extra staff hired during the day to help out the staff. As travel nurses, before we sign a contract we know what the ratios are so we know what we are getting ourselves into before we even arrive. Even knowing that, I found myself dreading day shifts and anticipating my nights (but I also generally prefer night shifts in the first place). The main thing I’m taking away from this contract is experience with managing a heavy workload and time management as well. I think I’d be much more prepared to face six patients again now that I’ve experienced it in PR. Having to care for more than four patients at a time is an issue related to funding and budgeting that I’m not going to get into, but it truly does affect the safety and time allowance that we have with our patients. Staff burnout is a huge issue up in these Northern Health communities but that’s where we come in to come help out where we can.
This was by far my favourite location so far that I have worked in. How can you beat having a view of the Pacific Ocean PLUS mountains every day!? I took advantage of it on every day off and I’m satisfied with my time in PR. My first day exploring the city, I was faced with one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. I fell in love instantly with this place. How could you not with views like this!? The waterfront is so peaceful and I saw two huge bald eagles along with a fisherman’s bucket of crab caught that day!
The first weekend I was there was the city’s annual Winterfest weekend. I walked around town then later watched the Sail Past (boats decorated with Christmas lights) and an impressive fireworks show set off on a barge in the harbour. This weekend was also Hometown Hockey which brought a lot of excitement to the city.
Highlights of Prince Rupert also included a visit to the Museum of Northern British Columbia which was very interesting. I also loved the little area of Cow Bay where there are cute little shops and restaurants catering to the cruise ship tourists stopping by. There was an amazing little coffee shop called Cowpuccinos which has the best Sex in a Pan dessert!!
After I moved from the motel into the residence across from the hospital, I had a couple of roommates which was amazing for me. I definitely prefer having roommates over living alone while on assignment. It’s nice to make friends and do things with other people instead of being alone all of the time! One of my roommates was actually born in the same city as me and is going to be working with me at my next contract too! Such a small world!! He was so nice to lend me his car for a day and I used it to drive to the nearby town of Terrace. The drive was gorgeous along the Skeena River with mountains everywhere. I stopped at the local brewery (a common occurrence for me wherever I go) and was happy to see Taco Bell there (one of my favourite stops on road trips). Here are some pictures of the drive!
The best part about my time in Prince Rupert was all of the hiking I did! I really challenged myself physically while I was there which I am super happy about. I did Rushbrook Trail, Butze Rapids Trail, Tall Trees Trail and the Lookout Trail. I’m going to write a separate post about the hikes but here are a few pictures to show off the gorgeous views! You can click here to read the post about which trails I hiked!
On my very last day to explore Prince Rupert, I was down by the waterfront for one last time and this GORGEOUS rainbow appeared in the sky. It was stunning. It just solidified a feeling of hope and motivation inside of me that told me this is exactly where I was supposed to be in this very moment of time. It fired me right up and made me so excited to keep doing this travel nursing thing!!
How is that even real!? I’m so grateful for my time in Prince Rupert and it’s three and a half weeks that I will never forget. I met so many incredible people who impacted my life in such a positive way. I truly hope that I did the same for them in my short time there! Travel nursing is full of bittersweet goodbyes but there’s always an exciting opportunity just over the horizon and I think the rainbow represents that so well.