Assistant Professor Laura Fairley, of the Lawrence Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, is the 2021 recipient of the Council of Ontario Universities in Nursing Practice (COUPN) and Associated Medical Services (AMS) Quality Compassionate Caring Award recognizing her commitment to embedding compassionate care within her teaching and educating the next generation of nurse leaders.
The award also recognizes Fairley’s own practice as a palliative care nurse and her exemplary work with marginalized and vulnerable populations.
“Nurses exist at the seams of things. When the body is breaking down that is where the work of nursing takes place,” says Fairley.
Fairley grounds her teaching in social justice and equity, connecting student’s nursing praxis to a sense of action, while encouraging students to think about who they are delivering services for, and how barriers to access can impact people in multiple ways.
At the Faculty of Nursing, Fairley has developed simulations for clinical instruction that include patients from marginalized communities, including LGBTQ2S, people experiencing homelessness and individuals with substance use disorders.
“Nurses are proximal to all of kinds of suffering,” says Fairley, “it is a large part of our role as nurses to recognize and hold space for that suffering, but also to do something about it, at an individual and societal level.”
Compassion as a concept, is something Fairley believes has been used as a trope to justify nursing in unsafe environments, much like that of the hero, but compassion she says, is much more complicated than that.
“There is this idea that as nurses, we have an innate calling to be compassionate. When really, a significant component of providing compassionate care is standing up for things that are wrong which also requires courage,” says Fairley. “It takes a great deal of courage for example to turn towards suffering, when as human beings, our inclination is to turn away.”
Fairley also promotes compassion in her teaching by having students focus on the tangible societal harms they can change through encounters in their clinical practice. Offering gender inclusive care for example, means recognizing that there are a range of gender identities and often, a gender binary e.g. male and female, is entrenched within the health care system, including within language used on forms and signage.
“Simple things such as asking what pronouns clients use and using those pronouns while providing care, not making assumptions about people’s bodies, removing gendered language from nursing procedures such as catheterization and PAP smears…these all have a significant impact,” says Fairley. “When we create a more inclusive and supportive society, we create a healthier society, because those individuals are more likely to feel safe enough to return and receive healthcare.”
Fairley points to much of the work being done by community care nurses during the COVID19 pandemic, as examples of the kind of compassionate care she tries to elicit in her students. These are nurses who are holding their patients through the difficult process of cancelled and rescheduled surgeries, advocating for paid sicks days and proper supports for people in encampments, as well as taking part in mobile vaccination teams.
“These are the people who need to be awarded,” adds Fairley. “I am honoured to receive this award, but I also want to acknowledge the many things nurses are doing right now to keep communities safe and healthy.”