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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Nursing offers a diversity of options

By Susan Poizner
Special to The Toronto Sun

Cathy Crowe is a street nurse. She spends her days working with the homeless, helping them, healing them and fighting for their rights. She was the subject of a documentary called Street Nurse, which was screened during last month's Hot Docs film festival.
Street nurse Cathy Crowe helped out at Tent City. "We helped them get their belongings and medication and made sure they were okay," she says.

Cathy's job is not just to treat the current problems of the homeless; it's also to predict the issues they will face in the future. Now that the warm weather is coming, she's trying to protect those living in parks or near standing water from West Nile Virus.

"We're collecting tents, mosquito netting and mosquito shirts to give them. We also deal with issues related to tuberculosis and infectious diseases. And now that many agencies dealing with the homeless are closing down, we're also seeing a lot of hunger," she says.

There are about 50 street nurses in Toronto. Crowe is one of those who are attracted to this less conventional side of nursing. In fact, Nursing Week, which takes place May 12 to 18, is a good time to highlight the many types of work nurses can do.

"I've been a nurse for almost 40 years," says Adeline Falk-Raphael, president of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO). "I've done so many varied things during my career and there are many more I haven't tried."

Falk-Raphael lists a few of the options: There are nurses working in infection control and occupational health. There are rural outpost nurses and telehealth nurses who advise patients over the phone. Then there's the emerging field of public health nursing.

"Public health nursing involves working with community groups to identify health issues. Some work in the Healthy Babies Healthy Children program and their job is to visit new moms, support new parents, and run parenting classes," Falk-Raphael explains.

In the future, hospitals will become more automated -- like banks -- and as of now, an increasing number of nurses are working in a field called "informatics." Their job is to develop ways of using technology to make hospitals and their information systems more efficient.

For Cathy Crowe, street nursing isn't just an interesting job. It's also a calling -- and the only job she wants to do. She faces different challenges every day and works to help society's most disadvantaged people. It's hard work, but at times the rewards can be great.

"I worked as a nurse down in tent city for a long time. It was a battle bringing in toilets and pre-fab housing, and making sure their water was clean. "When eviction happened in September 2002, the 130 residents stayed together and we stayed with them. We helped them get their belongings and medication and made sure they were okay," she says.

But that was a story with a happy ending.

"Last month, we had a tent city reunion party at the Winchester Pub. We had a band play. People danced. Today 106 of the former tent city residents are now in housing. They're healthier. On average they've each gained 10 pounds. Couples are together.

"To me that was a huge political victory, and one that changed people's lives. And now they are speaking out to say that others should have what they have... affordable places to live."

For more information about how to get into nursing, visit the Council of Ontario University Programs in Nursing Web site at

(Susan Poizner ( is a Toronto-based freelance writer.)

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