Alumni in Nursing Spotlight: Constence Hsu '04

What inspired you to become a nurse?
I was in my third year of a Science degree at the University of Toronto, going into my fourth, and still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in life. I had considered becoming a nurse in middle or high school—this is going to sound cliché, but I read a story about Florence Nightengale that inspired me—so I decided to speak with a family friend who is a nurse. She told me about the career, I did a bit of research, and I decided to give nursing a try. I figured if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out – luckily it did! 

Tell me about your own unique path to becoming a nurse.
I applied to nursing school at the University of Toronto and got in, lucky because I met most of the prerequisites. Since I was coming from the science program, I was able to earn my nursing degree in two years. With no experience, it was hard to find a job after I graduated. I looked everywhere and even considered coming back to BC. Luckily, Ontario has a new grad initiative for nurses and I was able to get a position in the Women’s Unit at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. I rotated through antepartum, labour and delivery and postpartum. This was great because this was the specialty I wanted to be in. I also loved it, so it was a great confirmation for me. After this placement, I was offered a full-time position in the neonatal intensive care unit. I was born prematurely, so I felt like I was coming full circle. I was a NICU nurse for about seven or eight years and loved it, but also found myself burning out towards the end. You become attached to your patients and it can be a difficult job to be in. Well, one day a colleague asked me if I wanted to come shadow in the fertility clinic. I figured, sure! Why not? So, I did for the day, not realizing it was actually a job interview. I was offered a position, took it, and have been there ever since.

What are some of the more surprising parts of your job? 
You will be surprised how intense people can get. We think there are certain social cues and norms with how to act and react… but those aren’t always there in the medical field. When it comes to health, you get the extremes of reactions. That still amazes me. Especially during the pandemic which brought out more tension than ever. That’s the most surprising part for me, on a daily basis, and that’s not just in fertility.

What are the most enjoyable parts of your career?
Grateful patients. You really feel the reward of sending a patient home from the NICU. You become really close with the family, and there’s no greater reward than sending them home with a healthy baby. In the fertility clinic, we still have a lot of success stories like this. We’re always grateful when families send us thank you cards, pictures of their babies, or send us food – we always appreciate the food! It’s these success stories that are the best parts of being a nurse.

What are some of the more challenging parts of your career?
Burning out is a reality. You have to be aware of that. Right now, going through COVID, that’s probably the hardest part of my career. Patients are under stress and nursing staff are under stress and understaffed. There’s also a lot more that goes into it with politics as well. The last two years have been emotional for all of us, but I’m hoping things will start to get better and we will all get a little better too. It’s never fun to work through a pandemic. You get into the medical field knowing there is a certain degree of uncertainty—you may face a pandemic—but you don’t think you will. After these past two years, we’ve seen how vulnerable our system is built and I hope we learn from it. It also shows the power of human nature, and we saw people stepping up to do incredible things.

What advice do you have for students hoping to pursue nursing as a career?
You need the grades—that’s just a fact. You should also have an open mind when it comes to the career because there are many things you won’t realize about it going in. When I started, I wish I had known about the difficulties of shift work. As nursing students, we know that it will be a part of our lives, but you don’t realize how tough it can be on your body. It’s not just staying awake for the shift. It’s also managing the effects of working overnight on your body for days at a time. Early in my career, I had to work four straight night shifts one Christmas. This made it so I couldn’t sleep during the day or at night. This is important! If I could go back in time, I’d tell myself, Constence! Keep up with an exercise routine. This is not just for the physical aspect of it, but also for the mental side of things as well. I really got into working out during the pandemic and it’s been such a help for me.

Tell us an interesting/surprising fact about yourself.
This may not be surprising for my past teachers, but they may be happy to hear I have continued to sing. I sing in choirs and also train with a vocal teacher. Back at Meadowridge, I was involved in the choir and with musicals and have kept up with it ever since. I have always had a passion for music because of this, and it’s something that I’ve continued on. When I’m not at work, I watch operas and go to symphonies. That’s one of the things I love about being in Toronto. Maybe, potentially, I’ll consider auditioning and making singing a side gig one day!

Tell us a bit about your life outside of nursing.
Currently, my life is work, work out, work, work out… that’s basically it. [Laughs] I sprinkle in my music and also see my friends as well. Because I work so early in the morning, I don’t tend to go out at night very often. My schedule really is work, work out, music, see friends, go to sleep, repeat.