July 29, 2022

Flex Friday: Harrison Blonde

Flex Friday is brought to you by your VP Communications, Undergraduate Nursing Society to showcase the excellence of our undergraduate nursing students at UCalgary
Harrison Blonde
Harrison Blonde, third-year nursing student, UCalgary

Meet Harrison Blonde, an incoming third-year direct entry student who is highly enthusiastic about the profession of nursing, and who can almost always be found with a textbook in-hand. Harrison has also been working as a Health Care Aide (HCA) for three years, and has been able to integrate much of his health-care experience into his nursing journey.

Why nursing?
“There’s several different reasons,” Harrison explained. “As long as I can remember, my mom has been very unwell and growing up, I’ve had to watch her health deteriorate. Dealing with that as a child really made me want to become someone capable of helping others because I was unable to do so much for her.

“On top of that,” Harrison added, “I was diagnosed with ADHD at a young age so people kind of treated me like a social pariah most of my life. I did not have that chance to develop social skills and as a result, I’m not as good around people. But I would like to be and I am always trying to improve my social battery.”

Harrison described himself as an introverted person who loses energy from interacting with others, but shared that he always loves meeting new people and hearing their stories.

"Nursing has been my opportunity to break out of my shell."  

When asked why he didn’t enter the medical field, Harrison explained: “Doctors save people, but they’re not there for people. Their role is different. I like the idea of being able to support vulnerable people by their side throughout their health-care journeys.”

Tell us about your experience as a Health Care Aide (HCA).
Harrison applied to become an HCA after completing a dual credit program during high school. He’s been working in long-term care for four years, but admits he’s not sure whether this is the future for him. “It’s not something you necessarily want to do for the rest of your life when you’re young,” he said, “but it is a growing field and I definitely recommend it if you're just starting out.”

Harrison currently works on secure units with residents diagnosed with moderate to severe dementia. He often works one-on-one with those needing 24/7 supervision due to concerns of depression or suicidal ideation.

“Working in long-term care is not easy and it has its own unique challenges,” Harrison said. “Older persons often have complex health issues that are further exacerbated by their old age and things can go from zero to one hundred in a moment if you are not vigilant.” He shared that unlike other patient populations such as paediatrics, it can be challenging to be assertive with older adults and also maintain respect. “With older adults, they have authority over you as your seniors and they know it. You have to show them that respect at the same time.”

“It’s a very under-appreciated population,” Harrison added. “The aged subpopulation is growing and the need for long-term care is increasing alongside that growth. As time progresses, there are a lot more older persons and not enough people to take care of them.”

Harrison Blonde

What are the biggest takeaways from your HCA experience?
“You’re going to have the highest highs and the lowest lows when you’re working in health care, especially if you’re dealing with older adults,” Harrison said. “You have to work on not having any regrets.” He explained that the experience has put a lot of things in perspective for him, especially after seeing many patients in the last moments of their lives.

Much of Harrison’s learning has also come from the rapid changes made during COVID-19. “I worked months of consecutive overtime as a regular staff member on the facilities’ COVID-19 unit,” he said. He also recalled their facility facing horrible staff shortages.

“We weren’t the frontline,” he explained, “We were just the only line.”

Altogether, Harrison learned never to be ashamed to ask for help or to assume that you know everything. “Our collective body of knowledge as health-care professionals is always growing and evolving and we are always learning.”

What other extracurricular opportunities have you had? 
Harrison has been involved in several UNS subcommittees and was the Nursing Practice Policy and Procedure Committee (PPPC) representative this past year. Their team looks through policies and helps to make changes for the best interests of the nursing program. He is also part of both a book club and upcoming poetry club at the UCalgary.

“Extracurriculars are important for staying sane,” Harrison said. “It’s a great opportunity to meet people from other faculties and learn new things.” He will also be joining the Scholar’s Academy this year and is excited for mentorship and other opportunities to connect with like-minded students.

Tell us about your PURE research. 
Harrison recently received a Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) award, and has been able to partner with a nursing supervisor to conduct research over the summer. “I’m working with Dr. Tracie Risling, the new Vice President of the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA),” he said. “I have been learning so much under her guidance.”

Harrison is conducting research on the lived experiences of scientists, academics and other experts combating misinformation on social media. “The purpose of this research is to explore the experiences and challenges of experts who regularly refute misinformation on social media,” he said. “This exploration is a critical step in better supporting experts in these new roles and encouraging others to follow through the creation of toolkits and other support for science communicators.”

Harrison Blonde and friend

How was your second-year clinical experience?
“I was more discouraged than I thought, because the human connection wasn’t as much as I’d hoped,” Harrison explained. He felt students struggled to meet each other during COVID and it became difficult to carry those connections over to larger groups. “When you don’t have in-person classes and you only meet for labs and clinical, there’s only so much rapport you can build with people,” he said.

In terms of his Term 3 clinical placement, Harrison explained their group really had to fight for opportunities. They worked with a population of Yazidi refugees in Calgary. “We were really worried – me and the guys in my group. Due to the persecution and the cultural boundaries we came to understand of the Yazidi women, we were expecting them not to talk to us,” he said. "But they came and they were so down-to-earth. Based on the assumptions we had formed, it completely shattered our perceptions." He added: “It was a different experience from the clinical nursing practice that tends to come to mind when people think about what exactly it is that a nurse does.”

How was online learning for you? 
“I think online learning’s great for nursing because we have to be everywhere. I actually liked it,” Harrison said. He felt that, instead, blended classes were more difficult for him and managing moving from in-person to online learning became difficult without proper preparation.

At the same time, Harrison shared that the only face-to-face interactions I had with my cohort members were on a screen through Zoom and most people kept their cameras turned off.” He felt that the years he spent talking to people online had eroded his social skills and it was a challenge to build them back up.

The lack of social connection also proved difficult during clinical placement. “Working in long-term care, the residents would often ask me and other staff members to take our masks off because it was difficult to understand us with our faces covered,” he said. He found that trying to arrange interviews and meetings with community partners in Term 3 was also harder during the pandemic.

Despite the circumstances, Harrison explained that the social distance caused by COVID-19 gave him an excuse to become closer with others and form new connections. “It really helped push me out of my comfort zone and move past my crippling social anxiety,” he explained.

“The alone time gave me an opportunity to reflect on myself and undergo a metamorphosis such that the me from the past would not recognize who I am now.”

Harrison Blonde

What kind of nursing would you like to do in the future? 
“I think everyone should try everything as a nurse to find what their niche is,” Harrison said. “You might think one thing is better for you and then find out you absolutely love something else.”

Harrison hasn’t yet decided on a specific specialty, but would eventually like to become a nurse educator. Inspired by his professors, he said: “The idea of becoming someone who is a mentor and a role model for students studying nursing, someone who can impact the evolution of nursing and health care by inspiring future generations of nurses, is very appealing to me.

“I am searching for that weak point in the nursing mosaic wherein my unique characteristics will leave the biggest impact and I am trying to equip myself with the tools in my toolbox necessary to make that happen.”

What are your thoughts as a male in a female-dominated profession? 
“I hope you have a couple minutes,” Harrison laughed. “Women tend to feel uncomfortable with a man providing intimate care for them. It’s completely understandable, but it has to be normalized that we’re just professionals doing a job. We are not male nurses, but rather just nurses.

“A lot of people will ask ‘So you’re going to become a doctor next?” Harrison recalled. “I just keep telling them, ‘No. I’m becoming a nurse.’”

As one of the only men in the workplace, he has also found it can be difficult to connect with coworkers and you can certainly be pushed out of your comfort zone. Harrison shared that even Florence Nightingale, the primogenitor of modern nursing, once suggested that it would not be appropriate for a man to be a nurse and that male hands would be too rough to dress wounds.

"The trick to overcoming the perceived and actual gender issues you can encounter while caring for people is to keep an open mind and try not to take things personally because it does and will continue to get better over time as people get used to it and more men enter the profession."

Advice to incoming students? 
“I think a lot of people think nurses are pushovers because it is our job to care,” Harrison said. He advised that while some may enter the faculty thinking that professors will simply be nice, they also need to come to clinical on-time and be prepared.

“You have to take it seriously,” he shared, “Because while the faculty is more understanding in certain aspects like mental health, they are also very evidence-based and have high expectations for their students.”

During clinical placement, Harrison also explained that while health care is meant to be collaborative and close-knit, students should remember to put their own learning opportunities first. “You should always be searching for extra opportunities to learn and try new things, even if it means putting yourself and your learning first,” he said. 

Harrison Blonde reading a book

Rapid fire!

Best place to study on campus? “I’ve only been in the Professional Faculties building. It’s nice there, despite a lot of people telling me that they think it’s intimidating.”

Plans for the summer? “I’m trying to prepare for Term 5 because I have been told it will be tough. I’ll also be working on my research!”

Self-care or hobbies? “I am a massive theatre and literature nerd. I love reading books, watching plays, and writing poetry,” Harrison shared. “I try to do daily workouts and I’m also a blue stripe in Taekwondo.” He also enjoys axe throwing and skateboarding in his spare time.

Biggest role models? Harrison is greatly inspired by many of the professors in the nursing faculty. “I have learned so much about what it means to become a nurse from Heather Bensler, Carla Ginn, Graham McCaffrey, Aniela Dela Cruz, Patricia Morgan, Tannis Rasmusson and the many other amazing staff in the Faculty of Nursing here at the University of Calgary. They are all spectacular nurses who have set the bar for nursing incredibly high.” Harrison strives to become a nurse that is every bit as amazing as they are.

Harrison’s final words
To quote the late Robin Williams: “I don't know how much value I have in this universe, but I do know that I've made a few people happier than they would have been without me, and as long as I know that, I’m as rich as I ever need to be.”