Supporting Communities in the North with Dianne Iyago and Betty Strbac

Nursing in Canada’s North involves overcoming many challenges every day, including staffing, access, equipment, transportation and weather, to name just a few. But there is an incredibly strong sense of community here, and residents who call the North home go to great lengths to overcome nature’s obstacles to keep one another safe.

In this episode, hosts Gail Donner and Mary Wheeler have an enlightening conversation with Dianne Iyago, Public Health Nurse in Baker Lake, Nunavut and Betty Strbac, Community Health Nurse in Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories.

Hear as Dianne and Betty discuss the trust that needs to be built as a nurse in the North, how they have dealt with COVID-19, and how nursing is both challenging and rewarding in two of Canada’s most remarkable places. Watch and listen to their stories now.

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About Our Guests

Dianne Iyago, RN, BScN
Public Health Nurse, Baker Lake, Nunavut

From Dianne:

My interest in nursing came when I was in high school, and I signed up for a program that allowed me to job shadow a home care nurse in the south. As I went along in my post-secondary education, I found myself showing interest in things like international development or sustainable development. But, I still applied for the nursing degree program. It was a tough go for me during the first couple years, but I was so confident in writing the CRNE and was so happy that I passed. I remember telling my instructors that I am going back to my home community to work and thinking “you can’t tell me otherwise.” Because the only positions in my home community were Community Health Nurses and to those who don’t know what that means, is it requires a lot of advanced skill assessments and experience. But I wanted to come home and work here right after graduation. And I did after giving birth to my son and I had a lot of support.

My passion for advocating for my community can come off as bold and assertive at times, but that’s the reality as my community members have seen thousands of different nurses come and go. I try to get to the root of the problem and even when it doesn’t seem like a nursing function, I’m still there to support my community members. There has been a great feeling of acceptance and trust working in my home and I am grateful. But there is much work to be done and I am looking forward to the time where I can help make decisions to get better access to adequate health care for my community and the territory.

Right now, I am focusing on gaining the right amount of experience to be able to make those kinds of decisions. But even in this profession, my priority has been my 6-year-old son who is my hockey star and enjoys having me home on the evenings and weekends. We love spending our time with our family out on the land doing ice fishing, berry picking, sight-seeing for wildlife like muskox, caribou and grizzly bears. We also enjoy going for our ski doo rides in the dead of winter. Shout out to my nursing mentor Jenifer Bujold for supporting me, and still guiding me to this day about my nursing career decisions.

Betty Strbac, RN, BScN
Community Health Nurse, Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories

From Betty:

I am originally from Croatia but have spent majority of my life living in Yellowknife, NWT. My husband and I emigrated from Croatia to Canada in 1996. Shortly after our arrival in 1997 we settled in Yellowknife, NWT, where we raised our family and made lifelong friends who we consider our family.

My nursing career began when I was 35 years old. At the age of 30 I was looking to make a change but didn’t exactly know what my passion was. At the time I felt that nursing would allow me to discover my passion and at the same time open the doors of many opportunities. I graduated in 2010 with the Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the Aurora College in Yellowknife, affiliated with University of Victoria, BC.

Over the last 10 years I have worked on med-surg floor, public health and community health nursing. My nursing career took me to some wonderful and hidden places in NWT; I went as far as the Arctic Ocean. On my nursing journey I met so many wonderful and compassionate nurses, elders, leaders, community members and I feel honored to have learned so much from them.

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