Pemberton nurse practitioner gets bird’s eye view of life on way to see clients
Of all the Nurse Practitioners who work for VCH, Erica Vanzanten is probably the only one who gets a bird’s eye view of life on her way to see patients.
Every Tuesday, Erica travels by helicopter with a physician from Pemberton to provide primary care outreach clinics to the Indigenous communities of Skatin, Samahquam, and Xa’xtsa (Douglas and Tipella). These communities are varying distances down the In-SHUCK-ch Forest Service Road. The road is extremely rough, and can be inaccessible by car due to washed-out roads from heavy rains or winter avalanches.
Without the outreach clinics, the patients from these communities would need to travel to Pemberton to seek medical care from a doctor or nurse practitioner. For the furthest communities of Douglas and Tipella this means driving two to three hours or more depending on weather and road conditions.
On Wednesdays and Thursdays, Erica packs up her car with her Stanley toolbox filled with medical gear and drives to the N’quatqua Band and Health Station (D’Arcy) and to Lil’Wat Health and Healing (Mt. Currie) where she runs primary care outreach clinics composed of both booked and walk-in appointments. She also does home visits for home-bound Elders who are unable to make it up to the clinic site, or who are recovering at home after discharge from hospital.
Case load is the very young to very old
Her case load includes the very young to the very old and her cases run the gamut from antenatal care and women’s health, to well child checks, visits for episodic illness or injury, mental health care, and management of chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.
“It is an honour and a privilege to help provide medical care to patients who I serve, particularly to the clients from the Indigenous communities,” says Erica. “It has taken some time to build rapport, and in the early days my practice focused primarily on attachment and engagement. Over the years it has been rewarding to see patients return to the clinics, and also to work with them to help facilitate the positive changes in their health that they wish to see.”
Rural practice professionally satisfying
On Mondays and Fridays you can find Erica at her home base in the Pemberton Medical Clinic seeing clients from the Pemberton area and the surrounding Indigenous communities.
“I really enjoy the rural aspect of being an NP in Pemberton,” says Erica, who took on the NP role over three years ago. “I learn something new every day, and I get the opportunity to manage a large variety of cases. Working in a rural practice forces you to become very resourceful to help manage the health of your clients within their home communities. I am fortunate to work with a wonderful group of physicians and other health providers. We recognize the complexities and struggles that our clients face when leaving the area for further investigations, specialists’ appointments, and particularly when they or a family member is admitted to hospital in Squamish, or North Vancouver. We work together to manage what we can here by maximizing the services we have in community, and by reaching out to specialists by phone or through telehealth rather than referring out.”
Before taking on the role of Pemberton’s first NP, Erica worked as an RN in Ottawa in General Medicine and later at VGH in Neurosciences. But she wanted more so she took a two-year Master Program at UBC to become a Family Nurse Practitioner. She had already worked in non-urban areas before (Trail, rural Newfoundland) so coming to Pemberton wasn’t a stretch. After a few years of living in Vancouver, Erica was ready for a change.
“Pemberton is an absolute gem,” says Erica. “I like the rural feel of the place and the access to the outdoor activities that I love – golf, hiking, skiing, and paddleboarding – yet it’s also still close enough to Vancouver if I need to get to the city. Plus, I just bought a house so I’m staying.”
Facts about Nurse Practitioners (NPs):
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- NPs are autonomous practitioners (do not require physician supervision)
- NPs work shifts including evenings, weekends and on-call groups
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