People of Georgian: Communication key to nursing career, says prof

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The Georgian community is full of unique, inspiring perspectives —and we’re sharing them as part of an ongoing series.

People of Georgian: Meet Terri Burton

My intent was always to go to law school.

I worked for a lawyer all through high school, but I also worked in a long-term care facility.

When I graduated, I worked for three years because I needed to save money for postsecondary school. During that time, I was starting to like working at the lawyer less and like long-term care more, so I switched and applied to nursing.

Since then, it’s been opportunity after opportunity for me in nursing.

A graduation photo of a person wearing a blue robe and nurse's hat.
Terri graduated from a nursing program at Georgian in 1981.

I graduated college in 1981, so I’ve been doing this for 42 years. Retirement’s just not in my vocabulary. I love teaching at the college.

My clinical job is on hold after I had knee surgery last year, but normally I also help at my general practitioner’s clinic when they’re short staffed. I love assessing patients and doing hands-on patient care.

As a professor, I love showing people this career will take you where you want to go.

One of my students messaged me and said I really motivated her and she’s going to apply to bridge from practical nursing to registered nursing. And that was just from 10 weeks exposure with that class.

Having that positive impact is really important.

A nurse dressed in scrubs takes a selfie with a simulator skeleton.
Terri has worked in ICU, emergency and air ambulance departments.

‘Stay away from the computer and get back to your patient’

Connecting with people and having a positive attitude is so important when you’re a nurse.

Sometimes patients feel like they are just a number in hospitals and they wait for hours to be seen, so it’s really important that we are that first connection to build up their confidence and take down their anxiety. I always push with our students that it’s all about communication. If we give a patient a poor experience, then they’re going to say that clinic or hospital is terrible. What the first nurse does makes a big impression.

I worked in ICU and emergency, and then I was on air ambulance, which is the worst of the worst and the sickest patients.

As a nurse, the best thing to do is reassure the patient, have eye-to-eye contact with them, and build a good rapport with them.

When you have a patient on a ventilator, for example, talk to or touch them first before you do something technical. Stay away from the computer and get back to your patient.

A selfie of a person with long, brown hair, blue lace top and silver necklace.
Terri says good nurses have good communication skills.

‘Every day’s going to bring excitement’

I’ve had people tell me they want to be a paramedic because they get to drive fast and are paid well. If those are your reasons that career’s not for you; wrong choice.

It’s the same thing with nursing – you must have good communication skills and compassion and want to help people.

Then you will love your job and every day’s going to bring excitement.

Terri Burton, professor in Georgian’s Health, Wellness and Sciences department at the Muskoka Campus, and alumna of the college’s Registered Nursing program (class of 1981).

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