Annemarie Kaan - Clinical Nurse Specialist

By Evan Duxbury

How did you end up at PHC?

The Heart Lung Transplant Program in Sydney Australia was starting to develop their heart transplant program just as I was completing my training in 1984.  I had always been interested in cardiac nursing and found transplantation fascinating, so when I got started in 1987, I absolutely loved it. We were a very busy program, doing up to 60 heart and lung transplants a year, so after 13 years as a transplant coordinator and later as a Clinical Nurse Specialist, I decided it was time to decompress and go skiing for a year.

Canada was on my list of potential destinations as I’d always been captivated by the snow, mountains and wildlife. (Nothing has had me more excited lately than the owl who has been living in the tree outside SPH.)  At that time SPH was recruiting nurses from Australia by advertising in local nursing magazines, so I put in an application thinking I might pick up the odd shift in the cardiac surgery ICU. I quickly got a response that they needed somebody to help with their work on developing the ventricular assist device program. It sounded suspiciously like my old job, but SPH seemed to have more support available and they were doing fewer transplants so I figured I’d try it out for maybe 2 years. 14 years later I realized I’d kind of forgotten to go home. I love my team, I love the work and I love this city.

What is your role at PHC?

I’m a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), heart failure and heart transplant. As the name implies, I’m a specialist in my field, which means I’m up to date on the latest practice changes and I’m responsible for communicating those changes to our teams. This means I’m also an educator: I deliver lectures, present at conferences and I provide information to patients and families in addition to our teams. I’m a team leader, working to keep our multi-disciplined team on the same page; many of our long stay patients require carefully planned and coordinated care. Lastly, I’m involved in research groups to help with the study design and then facilitating the research in a clinical setting.

What role does the Heart Transplant Program play in BC?

SPH’s heart transplant and mechanical heart program is the only one in BC.  We do around 18 heart transplants and 18 ventricular assist device (VAD) implants per year.  Currently we have 19 people in BC living at home with a VAD.  Together we have developed a world-class program and as such, we have some of the best outcomes in the world. That’s because of our team and how we make interdisciplinary decisions. I’m very proud of our program and the work we do.

If there’s one thing you could shout from a mountain top, what would it be?

While we have rules and regulations to help guide us, we can’t forget to consider the patient and put them first. Sometimes rules need to be bent, or even broken to keep patients at the center of care. I hate when I see the fear of “getting in trouble” prevent us getting creative in delivering the care our patients need.

What’s the best part of your job?

Dealing with patients and families. I’ve tried jobs without that contact but I always come back. As a nurse you get to make a significant contribution to a person’s life. Getting a thank you card along the lines of “you made such a difference” is really very special.

If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?

Fewer meetings and more action. We get caught up in talking and going around in circles. Let’s just try it and see what happens!

How does your role differ from your counterparts at other Health Authorities?

CNS roles at other HAs can get very broad, essentially operating an entire regional program. This has its perks but as a result you’re not really specializing anymore. Their scope is so large that I think it gets very difficult to make changes and get things done. PHC has kept us focused so it’s easier for us to get into the details of practice change and spend more time with the staff.

What has kept you at PHC for so long?

Well, besides the owl, PHC has a feeling of family. We might have slow elevators and our buildings are not the newest, but we can walk past the CEO in the hall and there’s a good chance she knows your name. Where else do you sit down in the cafeteria for lunch only to have a VP sit down to join you to chat? My mother recently passed away and letters started coming in from people across the organization, the support I got from the PHC family was incredible.

Do you have any advice for somebody just starting out in nursing?

There’s no rush to specialize, get some general nursing experience first. Work in medicine or surgery to get experience with a variety of illnesses. It gave me a great foundation and the understanding that we’re not working with hearts on legs, there’s a whole body system that needs to be considered. There’s plenty of time to specialize later on. 

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