Patricia Woods | 49 Langarans Award Recipient

PhD student wants nurse leaders included in policy making

When Patricia Woods started her PhD at the University of Victoria School of Nursing, just shy of turning 60, she was planning to build on a highlight of her long career.

Woods has more than 35 years of experience as a nurse and another two decades of experience as a nurse educator. The former assistant chair of the Langara College Nursing department counts co-leading the school’s smoke-free campus initiative as one of the most significant accomplishments.

As co-chair of the school’s Smoke-free Committee, she worked for three years to protect the tens of thousands of students who walk the campus every year from the dangerous health effects of secondhand smoke.

“That policy change was so powerful in terms of health promotion and prevention,” Woods said. “I went into the PhD thinking I’d be doing more work around smoke-free communities and policies.”

Thinking about policies got Woods thinking about decision-making processes, and she realized that nurses aren’t always included.

“Who is making policy decisions, what are they basing them on and why aren’t nurse leaders more influential at the policy table?” Woods asked, adding that she wanted to study how nurse leaders, such as chief nursing officers, or nurses who work for a health authority or the government, develop political competency in policy making.

“It’s very clear that nurses are either very underrepresented at the policy table or, when they are at the policy table, their voices are under-recognized and undervalued.”

Also inspired by the Nursing Now World Health Organization campaign, Woods decided to broaden her PhD to focus on ensuring that nurses and midwives have a more prominent voice in health policy-making, because they have deep understandings of how policies are operationalized on the ground.

“Nurses are the ones looking after people in the hospitals and in the community, and seeing how policies are enacted at the individual level,” she said. “The bean counters aren’t the ones at the bedside 24/7 or in peoples’ homes managing their care.”

For example, in addition to health economists with their cost-benefit analyses, Woods said nurses should be involved in decision-making about the supply of long-term care beds.

“Long-term care is a huge policy issue that people don’t seem to be that aware of,” Woods said, adding that in B.C. in March 2018 alone, there were about 1,400 people waiting for long-term care admission.

“Even though the current demand exceeds the supply, there has been a minimal increase in the number of long-term care beds from 2014 to 2018. The number of publicly-funded beds increased 2 per cent while the seniors population aged 75 or older grew 14 per cent.”

So far Woods is working on the methodology and theological framework for her broader PhD topic. She is the oldest person in her cohort by about 15 years, but she said she feels welcomed.

“It’s great. My cohort are all wonderful,” she said. “We all value each others’ professional and lived experiences and they never make me feel older.

“Not that there is anything wrong with increasing age, as it comes with increasing wisdom, at least I hope so.”

About Langara College’s 49 Langarans Celebrating its 49th year on 49th Avenue, Langara is honouring 49 Langarans; those who are making an impact in the community and have helped shape the College into what it is today. From theatre directors and journalists to small business owners, community advocates, and dedicated employees – the stories of the award recipients are as varied as the College’s journey over the past 49 years.

Meet the 49 Langarans at beyond49.langara.ca

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