Alumni in Nursing Spotlight: Leah Gamache '95

What inspired you to become a nurse?
My best friend had become a nurse a year ahead of me. I have always been interested in science and knew I wanted to get into something medical-related where I’d be working with people. My first plan of becoming a veterinarian didn’t pan out, so when my friend became a nurse I thought, I could do that. The idea of helping people really inspired me.

Tell me about your own unique path to becoming a nurse.
When I first graduated, I went to Douglas College and took general sciences and completed my first couple of years of undergraduate work. During that time, I had been working in a veterinary hospital and started working at another one following a move to the island. There, I worked at a biotech company where I worked with laboratory animals. It was right around then that my friend got into nursing. After realizing it was something I wanted to pursue, I enrolled at Camosun College and completed my nursing diploma. After that, I began working in the Cardiology Unit at the Royal Jubilee Hospital. When I moved back to Vancouver, I worked at St. Paul’s in the Cardiology Unit as well. During that time, they also funded my training to go into critical care. For seven years, I worked in angiograms and angioplasties. After a sidestep into the culinary world, I went back into nursing and have been at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre working in the post-care unit ever since.

What are some of the more surprising parts of your job? 
I think one of the things about working in the ICU for a long time is that you understand the satisfaction you can get from helping someone pass on in a peaceful, dignified way. You can also help the patient’s family with that as well. We think the best thing is saving someone’s life but helping support people to pass when their bodies don’t want to live anymore is satisfying. It can be very sad and heavy, but it is meaningful when you can help someone and someone’s family through it.

What are the most enjoyable parts of your career?
I like the flexibility of it. In nursing, I can choose to work in any capacity—with older patients, babies, or kids; bedside or at a desk—there’s no end to the variety you can have. It’s not just bandages. I enjoy critical care and looking after really sick people who need life support. With the training and experience, you have a lot of autonomy and can make decisions and advocate for your patient. It is rewarding to use your knowledge and skills to make a big impact.

What are some of the more challenging parts of your career?
In this era, it’s staffing-related. It’s trying to do our jobs with such limited resources that have been stretched so thin. It’s administrators with no bedside experience making decisions on our behalf. I worked through the pandemic in the ICU. It was rewarding to be a part of, but it was a lot of work. Usually, it is one-to-one care—one very skilled nurse with one very sick patient—but during the pandemic, it was two patients to one nurse. Some of the basic things we do to look after people weren’t being done due to time, resources and all else. It made a lot of people sad and contributed to burnout.

What advice do you have for students hoping to pursue nursing as a career?
Be prepared for hard work. Nursing is selfless but can be satisfying. Be prepared for hard work in school and be prepared for hard work when you’re done. When you start, you don’t realize how tiring it can be. You work often and rarely sit down and nothing is easy. And yet, it is a satisfying career. Also, be prepared to talk to a lot of people. Twelve hours a day working with people – you have to have great interpersonal skills!

Tell us an interesting/surprising fact about yourself.
After going to nursing school and working as a nurse for several years, I did a complete one-eighty and enrolled in pastry school at the Pacific Institute of culinary arts. I worked as a commercial pastry chef for many years, then decided to go back into nursing sometime after that. Nowadays, I don’t do much baking. After leaving the commercial kitchen, my kitchen doesn’t feel the same. The simplicity of baking is gone. When I was into it, my favourite thing to make is ice cream since you can infuse any flavour into the base. I love the versatility of it, the potential. 

Tell us a bit about your life outside of nursing.
My husband and I have a two-year-old and a four-year-old, so we spend a lot of time at playgrounds. I like to run, and we like to go fishing and hiking as a family. This summer, we’re going to try and brave camping as a family. Mostly, though, it’s my husband and I chasing our toddlers around and crashing by nine o’clock every night. Outside of that, I also still keep in touch with my best friend, who I met while at Meadowridge. I’m actually seeing her later this week!