Nursing the world to health: A story of gratitude

Talk Tuesday - May 12, 2020

This forum during Nursing Week will showcase the ICN/CNA theme and celebrate nurses as leaders, featuring Manitoba’s own Claire Betker, president of the Canadian Nurses Association. She will share her impressive personal journey of nursing leadership, as well describe how the national nursing priorities and pandemic response relate to us at the provincial level. 

Featured presenter 

Dr. Claire Betker CNA President & Scientific Director, National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health

Claire’s career began in southwestern Manitoba at a rural single-nurse public health office. She has worked in public health, home care and primary health care in a variety of positions at local, regional, provincial and national levels.

Claire believes all nurses are leaders. It is through our collective voice and action that we effectively advocate for our profession, support the sustainability of the health system and create communities where all people have a fair opportunity to be healthy. Claire is Scientific Director for the National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health (NCCDH), hosted by St Francis Xavier University. Her focus there is on public health leadership to advance health equity across Canada.


Dr. Claire Betker joined us to share a bit about her own journey in nursing from being a district nurse in a rural community to being the president of our Canadian Nurses Association.

Claire started by acknowledging this is the International Year of the Nurse & Midwife in the 200th anniversary year of Florence Nightingale's birth. When this year was declared by the WHO the intent was to honour the sacrifices and contributions of nurses and midwives and address the worldwide shortage of our professions - that spotlight has turned out to be a bit brighter than expected.

Claire started her career as a district nurse in rural southwest Manitoba. These nurses really were the community’s nurses who cared for patients and families from preconception to death including palliative care at home. This was a lead from where you are model and leadership was expected of these nurses. This early experience made the impact of social determinants of health clear.

Professional advocacy associations were integral throughout Claire's leadership journey. In fact, her nomination for CNA president came from the Community Health Nurses of Canada and the Association of Registered Nurses of Manitoba.

Claire's campaign commitment:
  • Build: strong, strategic and unifying voice for nursing and health
  • Bridge: relationships at local, provincial, territorial and national levels to identify solutions to health barriers in Canada and to take collective action for positive change.
  • Believe: we are all leaders. Our collective voice and action will advance nursing and the health of people living in Canada. A strong and relevant CNA is essential to this effort.

After winning the presidency Claire made a point of speaking with as many nurses in as many different places as she could. She heard some very strong themes from them:
  1. Nursing needs a shared vision and a shared national voice
  2. Nurses are stronger when we work together collaboratively, in partnership and as a collective.

This was reflected in the June 2018 vote to open membership to all regulated nurses (as our own ARNM did just this spring) which had been voted down at least twice before.

One thing Claire learned as she represented Canada internationally was how incredibly well thought of Canadian nurses are around the world - our education, regulation, professional associations, unions and students are held in very high regard.

Question and answer

Can you speak to what inspired you to become a nurse?

I read a book about Florence Nightingale as a child - can't recall exactly what caught her interest but it was definitely caught!

Can you share some tips for lower level (patient/ward) type advocacy?

Claire described advocacy as a non-negotiable part of nursing practice. In our Code of Ethics we are obligated to advocate on behalf of our patients. When the Code of Ethics was being revised CNPS, unions and regulators were all at the table, so advocacy is a supported practice from all these perspectives. Patients aren't only individuals, they can be families and communities and whole populations who may be disadvantaged or vulnerable. Don't forget about policy, it's the biggest lever we have to make change.

At a ward level: a collective voice is helpful, so is bringing a solution and evidence to support it.

One tip for safer advocacy: frame it as leadership.

Do you think competency based education is the way forward for nursing education?

Claire acknowledged she doesn't know enough to comment on nursing programs specifically but is in favour of this kind of education for workforce development and specialty training.