Confidence Boost

Update magazine banner - Summer 2023 - Bria Reyes

BRIGHT FUTURE Vancouver Island student nurse Bria Reyes has new-found optimism for her nursing career after attending BCNU’s human rights and equity conference.

Pacific Rim region's Bria Reyes finds community and inspiration at union’s human rights and equity conference

“I already have a love-hate relationship with nursing,” says BCNU student member Bria Reyes. “I love helping people, but there are downsides.” As a person of colour, she says people often assume she works in food or janitorial services. “I get questioned if I am a nurse – and don’t get me started about the staffing shortage and how it impacts our ability to provide the kind of quality care everyone deserves.”

Reyes was born in the Philippines. She arrived in Canada six years ago to join her mother and other family members on Vancouver Island who had immigrated earlier. Reyes has a teaching degree that’s not recognized in Canada. She’s now enrolled in the nursing program at North Island College and plans to specialize in oncology or critical care.

Reyes had reservations about embarking on a new career path. She initially rejected nursing – despite her mother’s hope that she become a nurse – and instead earned a bachelor's degree in education before teaching children with special needs in the Philippines.

In Canada, Reyes says her mother once again asked her to consider nursing. But it wasn’t until her mother was in palliative care that Reyes agreed to apply for nursing school. “Everyone told me it was hard to get in and the wait list would be forever,” she says. Reyes applied and six months later she was accepted. “Three months before my mom passed away, I was told I got in,” she recalls.

Today, Reyes is part of the Nurses’ Bargaining Association Employed Student Nurse Program, which was developed by health authorities, BCNU and the BC College of Nurses and Midwives to provide working opportunities for students and support nursing graduates to become job ready. The program has provided Reyes with invaluable bedside experience. But, as a Filipina, her days on the unit have been challenging. “I have struggled,” she shares. “I find that, most of the time, I have to explain to my patients that I’m capable of doing my job.”

“I was surrounded by people who are not only ready to advocate for my patients but also for myself as a person of colour.”

- Bria Reyes

Racism is a reality many nurses like Reyes confront daily. The experience left her questioning whether nursing was the right path for her. That changed, however, when she applied and was selected to attend BCNU’s November 2022 human rights and equity conference as a student member.

“It was really enlightening to see that the union recognizes our struggles,” says Reyes, acknowledging that she didn’t know there were so many nurse advocates ready to support one another. “I have been a BCNU student member since I first started nursing school, but during the conference it really felt that I was supposed to be there and that I belonged. I was surrounded by people who are not only ready to advocate for my patients, but also for myself.”

Reyes says her conference experience also led her to appreciate the care needs of individuals not well-served by conventional care models. “We don’t get a lot of opportunities to learn about marginalized communities. I was impressed with the line-up of people who came to speak. All of them were so remarkable and it felt so heartwarming to listen to experts who speak from the heart,” she remarks.

“I hope I can bring a screening of the film Conviction to my classmates,” she says, in reference to the award-winning 2019 documentary that was shown to conference attendees about those fighting on the front lines of the decarceration movement and working to limit the role of prisons in society.

The event gave Reyes a new-found optimism for her nursing career. “When I left the conference, I felt so motivated, and it was inspirational to hear nurses advocate for themselves as they share their challenges at their workplace,” she says. “I could hear the strength and the passion to fight against racism and bullying in the workplace.”

The experience also gave the 27-year-old the added strength needed to confront racism anywhere she goes.

“I remember the moment I left the conference,” says Reyes. “I became prouder of who I am. I now talk about my Asian culture and use it as a distinct perspective when it comes to understanding people of color and the differences in care they might need.”

Reyes is entering the fourth year of her nursing program this September and expects to graduate next June.

The next BCNU human rights and equity conference will be held in Vancouver on Nov. 30. Watch for applications to open this fall.

UPDATE (Summer 2023)

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UPDATED: December 19, 2023

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