Katelyn O’Connor, far right, poses for photos with other graduates.
By Brandon Walker
Katelyn O’Connor is grateful for the lasting friendships she formed over the last two years while studying in Lakehead University’s Master of Nursing (MN) Program.
O’Connor is in the program’s inaugural graduating class, along with five other students who completed their MN studies in the Nurse Practitioner specialization in the summer.
Graduates participated in a celebration over the weekend in the Faculty Lounge with O’Connor as the valedictorian.
The celebration also included four graduates of the Master of Public Health program’s Nurse Practitioner specialization and three graduates of the Nurse Practitioner Certificate Program.
“Creating lasting friendships was truly one of the highlights,” O’Connor said.
“It was more than just forming connections – it was finding a community of like-minded individuals who were not only navigating similar challenges, but they are also inspiring in their own right.
“These connections turned into profound friendships, and the support and camaraderie that blossomed from our shared experiences is something I will always treasure.”
To O’Connor, the classes were not just about learning. What she will miss the most is the continuous exchange of knowledge and experiences among her classmates, who she says were on similar journeys.
Lakehead’s MN program offers two streams - Advanced Nursing (AN) and Nurse Practitioner (NP) specializations. The NP specialization is part of a nine-university-provincial consortium, where all Primary Health Care Nurse Practitioner students learn together.
“It wasn’t just the formal learning, it was the informal networking that happened, the real-time discussions about the latest in healthcare, and the collective support we offered one another. That sense of solidarity, of going through the challenges together and coming out stronger, is truly something I'll miss,” she said.
Lakehead’s Master of Nursing program provided O’Connor and her classmates with the foundation, the essential knowledge, and the skills required for nurse practitioners in the workplace.
However, the reality of the NP role reveals an ongoing learning curve. It's a field where experience and guidance play a significant role in shaping one’s confidence.
Working with nurse practitioners has been immensely beneficial for O’Connor. She said the reality is her first years in practice will come with their own set of challenges and uncertainties that demand continuous learning and adaptation, but she’s ready for everything that life will throw at her.
Part of her preparation included doing placements at several health-care facilities, which offered her an incredibly enriching experience.
O’Connor said her placements at Harbourview Family Health Team, Acute Pain Service at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, and the Lakehead Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic were instrumental to her learning and growth.
“I’m deeply grateful for the patience and wealth of knowledge these preceptors shared,” she said.
“In the current health-care climate – where resources are constrained and time is a precious commodity – the dedication of these preceptors in accommodating students alongside their demanding workload is truly commendable.
“A heartfelt thank you to all those who generously invest their time and expertise, often without compensation, in guiding and educating aspiring nurse practitioners like myself.”
O’Connor described her placements as “incredibly eye-opening and inspiring.” She vividly remembers being in awe while wondering how these individuals acquired such vast knowledge and made their work appear effortless.
“I distinctly recall feeling as though reaching that level was an unattainable goal.
Watching experienced nurse practitioners navigate their roles seamlessly was not only motivating but also a humbling experience.”
Even as she began the Master of Nursing program, the role itself seemed somewhat elusive.
She said interacting with and learning from these exceptional nurse practitioners, who have pioneered programs and clinics to serve patients and improve healthcare, was truly uplifting.
“Realizing that I could eventually follow in the footsteps of these remarkable role models was an awe-inspiring revelation,” she said.
Knowing she’s graduating feels surreal to O’Connor.
She is excited to become a nurse practitioner, “especially those first moments, like writing that initial prescription. It's a mix of the weirdest and proudest feelings all bundled into one,” she said.
As she looks ahead to a bright future, she is also looking back with gratitude on the time she spent with her professors and classmates.
“Completing the program and starting in the field, earning a paycheck – it's truly incredible. Yet, amidst these professional leaps, I can't help but miss the routine of our weekly classes.
“Those check-ins, discussing our placements, and sharing our collective learning experiences, they formed a significant part of the journey.”
Graduating signifies a tremendous milestone in O’Connor’s life and the lives of her classmates.
She’s experiencing a mix of pride and disbelief.
“Looking back at the challenges we've faced, this stands as my most significant achievement. I'm incredibly proud of both myself and my classmates for persevering through the program and emerging on the other side, ready for the next chapter.”
For O’Connor, the next chapter includes working on the remote monitoring of postoperative patients at the Rapid Access Clinic, which spans multiple hospitals in Northwestern Ontario.
She is also working occasionally at the Lakehead Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic and the Acute Pain Service.
To celebrate her graduation, O’Connor and her partner are planning a trip to Vietnam.
November 12-18 was National Nurse Practitioner’s Week.