by Pam Chamberlain, submitted 2010

As a registered nurse on the labour and delivery ward at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital, Shauna Littlefair finds that sometimes the most rewarding moments come out of the most terrible circumstances.

One particularly memorable shift, a woman went into pre-term labour and her newborn twins died. Shauna helped the parents take the babies’ footprints and handprints, dress them, and baptize them. “My job calls for me to be compassionate and empathetic,” she says. “It’s surprising how a few well-chosen words can bring closure and comfort to a grieving family.” The parents sent Shauna a thank-you card. “I really made a difference,” she remembers.

Tragedies are the exception, though. “Most days,” Shauna says, “a patient leaves the unit happy, carrying home her newborn baby. Most of the time, I’m part of what new parents call the happiest day of their lives.”

After her Augustana graduation, Shauna enrolled in the after-degree nursing program at the University of Alberta. “I chose nursing for several reasons,” she recalls. “I knew whatever career I chose had to be one that allowed me to give back. The Augustana motto, to lead and to serve, was in the back of my mind. I wanted to help people and to be challenged.” A family friend and physician suggested Shauna consider nursing, and her Augustana biology professors, Dr. Haave and Dr. Audet, agreed it would be a good fit for her.

While studying on the Edmonton campus, Shauna was on the executive of Students’ Health Initiative to Meet the Needs of Edmonton (SHINE), a group that ran a free drop-in clinic for inner-city youth, while providing hands-on volunteer experience for medical, nursing, pharmacy, and social work students. She credits Augustana with teaching her the leadership skills she needed to organize volunteers and supervise students at the clinic.

Now, in a hospital setting, Shauna takes on a variety of roles in her workplace, depending on the needs of the patient. The Royal Alex is the high-risk centre for northern Alberta, which means many of her patients are in pre-term labour or are ill. “My skills from other areas have to be kept up, since I never know what my day will be like,” explains Shauna. On any given day, she could be a surgical nurse assisting with a Caesarean section, a medical nurse guiding women through labour, a paediatric nurse responsible for resuscitating or caring for a newborn, or a teacher assisting new mothers with breastfeeding and infant care.

Shauna likes that her job provides her with a lot of autonomy. She offers support and pain management to women in labour, monitoring the well-being of both mom and baby, and she helps decide when interventions are required. “I can make my own decisions based on my assessments and experience,” she says.

For Shauna, every day is unpredictable, with different patients from different walks of life. It suits her, though. “I’m helping people, and I’m challenged,” she says. “I love the dynamic environment of nursing.”