Abbotsford Regional Hospital nurse Karen Chapman

Karen Chapman, emergency room nurse, Abbotsford Regional Hospital, has a knack for identifying issues and developing strategies to address them.

“The only thing that’s typical about it is it’s never the same,’ said Karen Chapman about daily life as an Emergency nurse at Abbotsford Regional Hospital. “Every day has a different challenge, with different people experiencing the worse day of their life, and you get the opportunity to help them.” 

One of this year’s recipients of the Above and Beyond Service Delivery Excellence Award, Karen fell in love with Emergency nursing early in her nursing career in Smithers, B.C., after being called down to help in the E.R. one day. “You could see the immediate effects of your actions in helping people,” she said. 

Recognizing her enthusiasm and talent, hospital leadership helped her get the courses she needed to embark on her specialty nursing career. It was a leap forward from her days as a 16-year-old university student who applied to nursing school because her roommate had, plus the idea of wearing scrubs every day appealed to her. “I was very young,” she laughed. “But I thought, I could see myself doing that for the rest of my life.”

After a few years at Mission Memorial Hospital she landed at Abbotsford in 2010, where she has volunteered to work some of the most difficult shifts, throwing herself into some of the thorniest projects. Her manager Luauna McCartney pointed out that Karen asked to be scheduled every shift in one particularly challenging area so she could identify the issues and strategies to address them, resulting in lasting change for patients and for her colleagues. 

Karen doesn’t see that as extraordinary. “Most Emergency nurses are cut from the same cloth,” she said. “We run toward challenges.” 

Her colleagues Yvonne Dale and Celina Heppner, who nominated her for the Above and Beyond award, point to the people who have taken the time to write letters of appreciation for Karen’s excellent care and how she advocates for her patients, as well as her guidance and encouragement of staff. “Karen has a way of keeping the team positive, even in the darkest and hardest days.”

“She is truly amazing and really reflects the power and passion in the frontline, and their ability to drive quality initiatives that not only benefit the patients but operational flow and staff retention,” said Luauna. “She leads by example and is a stellar role model for our staff."

Communication is by all accounts one of Karen’s strengths. “When people know what’s going on, even if it’s not good news, they feel better,” she explained. “They need to know you’re human and you care. They need to know you see them.” 

She describes nursing as giving a piece of yourself away to your patients. Replenishing the spirit, then, requires a tight-knit team who have your back, as well as deliberate self care. “I run a lot,” she said. “I have a life outside of this.” She also has a supportive husband and children, and the wisdom of more than 20 years of experience behind her. With that experience, she mentors new nurses and spreads her approach to emergency nursing. The most important is the golden rule: treat people how you want to be treated. 

“Abbotsford is my community. I live in Abbotsford,” she added. “I try to think of every patient as my brother, my grandpa, my dad, my sister, my aunt, and try to care for the people like they were my family. Because at some point, I want somebody to care for my family that way.”

Though she’s not going anywhere just yet, she is looking forward to a project that will leave a legacy of a healthier work environment. Her next goal as an Engagement Radical is to tackle a long-term project on mental wellness and resiliency for E.R. staff. “We see terrible things all the time,” she said. “It takes a toll.” 

She credits supportive management and the entire Emergency team for working together to improve the staff and patient experience. “I’ve spent my career just doing my job. Our whole department goes above and beyond.”

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