Sarah Mahon, nurse practitioner, builds trust day by day to provide the full scope of primary care on Vancouver’s Musqueam Reserve.

Caring for a small town in a big city

More than 1,000 people live on the Musqueam reserve in southwest Vancouver. In this close-knit community where everyone knows everyone else, Sarah Mahon has become a familiar face. As she walks and cycles the neighbourhood, the nurse practitioner waves to clients she’s met.

“It’s a small town in a big city,” says Sarah, whose been working at the Musqueam Primary Care Clinic since February.

The clinic is a partnership between VCH and the Musqueam Nation. Sarah works at the clinic Mondays to Thursdays, with a family doctor in attendance on Fridays. Covering for a maternity leave, this former RN is proud to call her current position her very first job working as a family nurse practitioner.

“In this job I provide the full scope of primary care,” says Sarah, “and my clients range from infants to those nearing death. I make diagnoses, prescribe medications and order and interpret tests. The clinic is a hub for patient care and when clients understand that we’re a permanent site, some switch their records here so we become their family practice. We’re located right in the heart of their community and we’re very accessible.”

Culturally appropriate care

“Years of generational trauma stemming in large part from the residential school system mean that many people here do not tend to go off reserve for health matters until their situation becomes urgent,” says Coreen Paul, Musqueam First Nation health program manager.

“Having a clinic onsite is a dream come true. It has meant better health outcomes for the people who live here and care that is delivered in a culturally respectful manner. The trust people build with Sarah and other practitioners is extremely important.”

“I approach all my clients with an accepting demeanour and a willingness to learn from them,” says Sarah. “It’s important to understand their historical context and how that contributes to their health. I ask lots of questions about the Musqueam culture and believe that the best treatment needs to get to the root of the problem and not just the physical ailment.”

Sarah has connected with VCH’s Aboriginal Health team to find additional resources to help with her work.

Continuing a family tradition

Sarah’s commitment to health care has deep roots. Her grandmother was a nurse and her grandfather a family doctor. “He was a big advocate for the nurse practitioner role and encouraged me to pursue it. He believed nurse practitioners are a great answer for the need for primary care in Canada,” Sarah recalls.

“I hope my role is providing a space where people feel comfortable accessing the medical care they need… a place where they can be heard and feel safe,” says Sarah.

“I’m really enjoying getting to know members of the Musqueam community, seeing them maintain and improve their health, and building relationships with them. That’s the learning that comes with full scope primary care.”

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