Inspiring Learning Opportunities

Aman with BCNU members at International Council of Nurses biennial Congress in Montreal

BC DELEGATION BCNU sponsored five lucky members to attend this year’s International Council of Nurses biennial Congress in Montreal. All were chosen after entering the union’s National Nursing Week draw last May. From left: BCNU President Aman Grewal, North East region’s Kim Magnant, West Kootenay region’s Liam Teetzel, Vancouver Metro region’s Raymond Li, and South Islands region’s Karen Evans and Gabrielle Down.

National Nursing Week draw winners thrilled by exciting learning opportunity

Gabrielle Down was all smiles when she received a phone call from BCNU President Aman Grewal earlier this year to let her know she had been selected to attend the International Council of Nurses (ICN) biennial Congress.

The event brings together nurses from around the world to celebrate and commemorate the nursing profession’s achievements and contributions to health care. This year’s ICN Congress was hosted by the Canadian Nurses Association and saw more than 6,000 nurses gather in Montreal from July 1 to 5. It was the largest meeting of nurses since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was really shocked at first!” recalls Down when describing her reaction to the news. “After it sunk in, I felt grateful because not everyone gets this opportunity,” she adds with a grin.

Down is a community clinic nurse at Victoria’s Westshore Urgent Primary Care Centre. The RN was one of five BCNU members selected by random draw from 185 candidates who submitted expressions of interest to attend the ICN Congress. BCNU promoted the professional development opportunity as part of the union’s National Nursing Week activities.

Down says her goal was to attend as many congress events as possible. A highlight was hearing Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions President Linda Silas speak at a session named Growing and Sustaining the Nursing Workforce. “I was lucky to briefly meet her too,” Down reports. “She genuinely cares about the Canadian nursing workforce.”

Down was also interested in hearing from Dr. Leigh Chapman, Canada’s Chief Nursing Officer, and attended her session called How Great Leaders Inspire Action. “It was cool to hear her – she has the best interests of nurses in mind at the federal level,” Down says. “Dr. Chapman talked a lot about being vulnerable. That was nice to hear from a person in a leadership position. During COVID, and in a staffing crisis, nurses often tell themselves to be tough and just keep our heads down. But she said it’s good to be vulnerable about what you’re going through, and to connect with your co-workers,” recalls Down. “It was reassuring to hear that someone in leadership gets it.” 

“It took me out of my bubble and made me think that maybe I do have more to contribute.” 

- Gabrielle Down


Guest speaker and world-renowned leadership guru Simon Sinek was another event highlight for Down. “He spoke about optimism, leading by example, creating a positive culture in the workplace, and how to be a leader no matter your role,” she enthuses. “He made me think about whether I can help improve the culture at my workplace and if that could help with retention. He helped me reframe the lens of leadership.”

Liam Teetzel is a student nurse in the fourth year of his bachelor of science in nursing degree at Cranbrook’s College of the Rockies. He explains why he submitted an expression of interest to attend the ICN Congress. “This past February, 12 classmates and I were lucky to attend a global health field trip in Geneva, Switzerland, sponsored by Global Skills Opportunity, an organization funded by Employment and Social Development Canada that provides students with international learning experiences.” While in Geneva, Teetzel and his cohort met with staff the World Health Organization, and ICN CEO Howard Catton. “He told us about the ICN Congress in Montreal and recommended that we try to be there,” he says. 

Soon after returning to the Kootenays, Teetzel was reading his BCNU eNews and saw the union’s National Nursing Week draw to attend the ICN Congress. He submitted his EOI and later was selected.

Like Down, Teetzel received a phone call from Grewal telling him to start packing. “I was so hyped!” he says. “After we hung up, I immediately phoned my mom with the good news,” he remembers with a chuckle.

As he prepared for the event, Teetzel saw that many of the scheduled speakers were names he was now familiar with following his trip to Switzerland. “I did some brainstorming around whom I really wanted to see,” he says. “Knowing that Dr. Leigh Chapman would be there was exciting because she is one of Canada’s pioneers around mental health and harm reduction, and those are areas I’m interested in working.”

Teetzel says he spent his time at as many congress events as possible. “There were long days, but terrific networking. I handed out little business cards with a QR code to my LinkedIn profile,” he reports.

The experience has helped Teetzel clarify his career goals, which lie in international nursing and policy advocacy, and left him with many memories. “On the last day, Prime Minister Trudeau gave a speech tailored to thousands of nurses from around the world.”

Teetzel and Down both plan to share their learnings with colleagues and classmates, and encourage other members to apply for professional development opportunities.

“Anyone interested should go for it,” says Down when asked if other members should consider attending the ICN Congress. “Many researchers showed their findings, and it’s powerful to see actual data that shows what we need to support and alleviate some of the current nursing crises,” she says. “I never thought of myself as someone who would be involved in research, but going to this conference was really powerful because it took me out of my bubble and made me think that maybe I do have more to contribute than I even realized,” she declares.

Teetzel agrees. “I would advocate for anybody to go and give it a try. Remain open and apply for everything!”

UPDATE (Summer/Fall 2023)

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UPDATED: December 19, 2023

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