Nursing alumna helps lead efforts in Yukon to digitalize health records

Jill Charlie is part of an interdisciplinary team building an electronic health record — the first of its kind in Canada to span across both public and private health care systems.

8 April 2021

Jill Charlie’s desire for a community connection led her to Old Crow, Yukon, where she found her passion working in both direct patient care and nursing management in a northern setting. 

Charlie — who transitioned to the role of 1Health Leadership and Coordination — now provides clinical oversight and leadership to build an electronic health record that will transform how health care services are delivered across the Yukon. The creation of the territory’s electronic health record will be the first of its kind in Canada to span across both public and private healthcare systems. 

Electronic health records provide accurate, up-to-date information about patients ensuring health care teams have a complete picture of their patient’s health while improving communication between the health care team and their patients. 

“Nurses are raised to be leaders and advocators, particularly in moments where people are feeling less empowered in the decision-making of their own health. We are positioned to help change that and help put the power back in their hands by delivering a higher level of patient-centred care,” says Charlie, who graduated from the Faculty of Nursing in 2006. 

Learn more about how the formation of an electronic health record will impact Yukoners, the challenges Charlie faces working up north, and the rewards that come from working with an interdisciplinary team in a tight-knit community. 

How did you transition into the role of 1Health Leadership and Coordination? Can you explain more in-depth how your team is building an electronic health record? 

My director at Community Nursing and I had worked together for several years and during that time we had longed for the day that we would be able to move from paper to an electronic health record (along with most of our staff I am sure!). When the 1Health project was coming to fruition, I took the opportunity as clinical lead and coordinator for our organization to help ensure that our scope of practice, assessments, and workflows were all represented and built to our specifications. 

This role grew once I transitioned over and I am now the clinical lead and coordinator for our territory’s outpatient services that have joined the project. This includes teams from nursing, therapists, midwives, physicians, and counselling services.  We are all working together to design and build the system for each of these areas as part of the larger 1Health system. 

This project is the first of its kind in Canada. We are working as part of a tripart relationship between our territorial health department, our hospital corporation and our medical association crossing both public and private health care industries. Once our system goes live, we will have a consolidated health record and patient portal for every Yukoner. 

What impact do you hope this project makes once it's complete? 

Making the move from paper charting and several instances of electronic systems to our 1Health system gives us so much opportunity to evolve. My hope is it will provide Yukoners and our health care teams with expedited access to information and a wider breadth of options for care. From a population health perspective, our system will also enrichen us with data to inform our programming and ultimately see improved health outcomes in our communities.

What are some of the challenges you have faced working up North?

Learning about the importance of self-care is something I very much realized during my rural and remote work and again working in nursing management. It cannot be overstated how important this is. As a nurse in the North, it can be harder to achieve depending on what you wish to access or places you may wish to escape to — or easier if you love the wild forests and crisp, fresh mountain air out your back door!

You cannot, however, just take off your proverbial nursing hat when you are living in a small community as the only nurse (or one of two) on call. You must always be ready to spring into action when you get the call. 

Navigating the food mail system, particularly in the fly-in communities, can also be a challenge when it comes to access and cost. I remember one community where a honeydew was $21 and pineapple was $19! 

How does it feel to work with an interdisciplinary team? 

I love it — it brings a new level of challenge in that we have to truly listen to one another. In order to reach success, I have to fully trust the other persons’ capabilities knowing we have a shared vision of the outcome while working towards the same goals. I would venture to say that people here work within a broader scope out of necessity because we have a smaller population to draw from. Sometimes having a smaller population helps, but we have the same amount of system components to set up as anywhere else. It is a bit of a yin and yang. 

Why is nursing in northern communities rewarding? 

The most rewarding, impactful thing I have taken from my time working in Northern Canada, was learning to see First Nations people with new eyes. I grew up like any typical Albertan my age with little exposure to or true knowledge of First Nations culture and history. I have had the privilege to serve in many First Nation communities since moving North and as a nurse, I had a unique lens even deeper into people’s stories than most. 

One could focus on the effects of trauma left by a legacy of Indian Residential School, but to someone who listens and cares to learn, you can see cultures that are revitalizing and see the true emergence of a young generation of First Nations people who are more resilient than we could ever begin to understand. 

I’ve developed a more evolved understanding of the challenges of health and wellbeing of First Nations communities. Continuous learning about this history, staying compassionate and humble is crucial to success as a nurse in rural and remote communities. The Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action are something we are very connected to as nurses working in the Yukon. 

Can you share any advice for students or RN's considering rural/remote nursing? 

Scope of practice and autonomy are unprecedented in rural and remote nursing. We have nurse-led teams that provide care for people from birth to death. You will have the opportunity to be a key part of someone’s transitions through life. Patients will look to you for help making their decisions and to help them navigate the possibilities until they find the path that best fits their needs.

Know it is not selfish to take care of yourself; it is necessary. You cannot give of yourself endlessly and expect that you can go on forever. Stop and smell the roses; find your adventure that fills you up. Keep laughing. 

Is there anything you’d like to add? 

I want to send a warm congratulations to my niece from the small community of Old Crow, Yukon, who I am so proud to say has recently completed her Registered Nurse training and is the first to do so from her community. It has been through my conversations with her when she decided to go into nursing and throughout her years of training, that has helped me stay connected to my “Why” in nursing.