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PICU nurses driven by learning with new certification

Six people stand smiling at the camera

Back row left to right: Kurt Brothers, Kaleigh Newton, Marie-Dominique Leger, Katie Pallett Front row left to right: Kaitlyn Sheffield, Alex O’Hanley

IWK’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) nurses are true leaders in health care and patient safety. Though health and medicine is a constantly evolving field, this team has a goal to always stay on top.

Recently, six PICU nurses passed advanced exams through the Canadian Nurses Association to qualify as Certified Nurses Critical Care Pediatrics Canada (CNCCP-C). This is a nationally recognized credential for registered nurses, demonstrating commitment to nursing excellence and continuing competence.

The PICU now boasts a total of 15 certified nurses with a further five nurses throughout the IWK and EHS LifeFlight. Two PICU nurses and leaders, Barb Ellsmere and Denise MacIntyre, also completed re-certification marking 20 years of commitment and excellence. Always looking to improve, the team has a goal of having all PICU nurses certified within two–four years of joining the service.

“We are really pleased to welcome six, newly certified nurses into the fold. And we look back with pride 20 years of our own certification and commitment to lifelong learning,” says Ellsmere. “Continuing education is so important to stay current, improve work-life satisfaction, to be engaged and to be the best advocates possible for patients and family.”

The constantly changing landscape of critical care practice was a strong motivator for this cohort of nurses to advance their training.

“Nursing practice is constantly evolving, and it's important we evolve with it,” says Kurt Brothers, registered nurse and CNCCP-C. “Continuing education provides opportunities for nurses to broaden their scope as well as facilitate change. It allows nurses to build on the knowledge they already have to become experts in their field.”

Fellow CNCCP-C and clinical leader of development Alex O’Hanley agrees, saying “Best practices are constantly changing, and we are learning new ways to treat our patients everyday with research studies. As a critical care nurse, you never have all the knowledge, there is something new to learn every day when you walk into the PICU.”

Preparing for the exam requires all self-directed learning. While a blueprint is available, no formal study guides or training are offered. Nurses must research and practice the most up-to-date practices and standards for critical care to prepare. The exam covers 11 competencies such as pain, endocrine and metabolic systems, and care of child and family. Nurses are tested on their knowledge/comprehension, application, and critical thinking of all competencies and how they apply to patients ranging in age from birth to 18 years of age—increasing the required knowledge exponentially.

“It took months of self-directed learning, in our free time, to prepare for the exam,” recalls Marie-Dominique Leger, registered nurse and CNCCP-C. “It’s up to you to find the most up-to-date information to study for the exam. Our knowledge learned through years of experience working in PICU was the biggest help in preparing for the exam.”

IWK has a core value called Driven By Learning, defined as: “Our drive to learn and be our best comes from a spirit of collective curiosity and imagination. We’re motivated by excellence and big ideas. We dare to dream, see the possibilities and make things the best they can be.” And the culture of learning within PICU exemplifies that wholly.

"Pursuing continuing education is a way to keep up with the advancements and change how you practice in your field,” says Kaitlyn Sheffield, registered nurse and CNCCP-C. “I would encourage any nurse considering certification to go for it. I would support them in any way I can!”

“Studying for this certification was made so much easier by doing it as a group with my coworkers. We were able to share ideas, resources, and brainstorm what we should focus on,” says Brothers. “Take every opportunity at work to learn. Continuing education is happening all around you at the IWK, you just need to take part!”