Cornwall woman face in national campaign promoting nurses

Tracey Hagan-O’Connor has been spit on and had urine flung at her but she wants to focus on the positive side of being an RN

Jim Day
Published on June 17, 2014

Tracy Hagan-O’Connor, a nurse educator at the QEH, says she is humbled to be among four RNs across Canada chosen to pose for posters as part of a national awareness campaign.

©Guardian photo by Jim Day

She has been cursed out of a hospital room.

She has been spat on.

She has been grabbed violently by the arm.

Still, she loves her job.

A patient trying to bolt from the hospital violently knocked her aside. Impatient patients often barked at her unreasonable demands.

Always, from as far back as she can remember, she wanted to be a nurse.

Once a plastic urine-filled jug was hurled her way. She ducked and carried on.

Tracey Hagan-O’Connor does her best to dismiss a host of abuses and indignities as simply being part and parcel to the job of providing health care.

The long-time registered nurse does not like to talk about the negative aspects of nursing. Drawing out the dark side of her job is a bit like pulling teeth.

She is reluctant, for instance, to publicly discuss how physicians, particularly years ago, could really talk down to nurses. Boy, could those doctors ever be demoralizing, she recalls.

Best not to print that, she is quick to add after offering the critical assessment.

“In every job, there’s things you don’t like,’’ she says.

Yet the 46-year-old Cornwall hockey mom has agreed to serve as the face — or at least a face — of nursing in Canada.

Her image, currently peering out from a large poster in the bus stop near the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, is part of a national public awareness campaign to promote the role of registered nurses in Canada’s health-care system and raise awareness about the depth and complexity of the work they do.

Good nursing, says this poster girl, requires compassion. Nurses will provide comfort by holding a hand or offering soothing words.

Pampering, though, only scratches the surface.

“The work of an RN is multifaceted,’’ says Canadian Nurses Association president Barb Mildon.

“While much of their work is visible, other components such as assessing, prioritizing and decision-making may not be. Through this campaign, we want people to see how RNs are deeply involved with the complete health and well-being of their patients, clients and families and that they are leaders, experts and partners in better health.’’

Hagan-O’Connor feels humbled to be chosen as one of four nurses from across Canada to grace posters as part of the campaign.

By agreeing to be interviewed, she is also adding her voice to a campaign that is using television and print advertisements featuring four of the core nursing care settings: acute, community, long-term and home care.

Hagan-O’Connor has plenty of experience from which to draw in sizing up the nursing field.

She entered the profession 25 years ago. She spent her first 10 years as a staff nurse at the QEH and the past 15 as a nurse educator.

The pay is good, she concedes, with nurses earning between $29 and $36 per hour.

But the work is terribly demanding. It is also tiring. Many nurses put in 12-hour shifts and come the third consecutive day of work, fatigue hits hard.

Hagan-O’Connor is fueled, as are other nurses, by positive feedback from patients and their families. She believes nurses are well respected in the community.

However, the public, generally speaking, just don’t understand all that RNs do.

Thus the purpose for the campaign.

“We have a lot of knowledge, we have a lot of skill, we have a lot of critical thinking,’’ says Hagan-O’Connor.