Leading the Pandemic Assessment Clinic – Wendy Johnson (Jollimore)

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For some, going to a hospital for a test on a normal day can cause stress, fear and anxiety. But going for a COVID-19 test during the pandemic can bring those feelings to another level says registered nurse Wendy Johnson, Clinical Leader of the IWK Pandemic Assessment Centre (PAC). 

A large part of Johnson’s role as clinical leader of the testing centre is making sure everyone in her clinic feels safe to be there. From the clinical staff, to housekeeping, to the patients being tested and the folks in the waiting room, Johnson and her team have to think of everyone who could be affect by every small action.       

“I’ve always been the type to take things as they come and to go all-in once it’s happening, and that’s worked very well for me here,” says Johnson about leading the COVID-19 testing clinic. The clinic opened in the end of February and was quickly was running seven days a week with a full clinical team. “It’s been really, really busy and incredibly challenging, but it has brought together so many of the skills that I’ve been building throughout my career.” 

Johnson has been with the IWK for 32 years, her home unit is Dentistry, where she is the Clinical Leader of Operations. When the pandemic began, Johnson answered the call for those interested in working in the assessment centre, and after a few shifts she was asked to lead the team.  

“Management put together the PAC team very quickly, within a matter of weeks. This meant relocating clinical staff, clinical unit aids, housekeeping, and more to get it up and running fully. We had to look at clinical areas for their skills set instead where they worked so this brought together physio therapists, respiratory therapists, registered nurses, license practical nurses, occupational health nurses, dental assistants, administrative staff and many others.” 

During a pandemic, information changes quickly and there are many unknowns. It’s clear that the clinic functions not just by the collaborative effort from everyone involved, but from drawing on many minds, from many areas, and many collective years of experience coming together. Johnson says that one of the more interesting parts of working in the clinic has been the level of teamwork that has to happen at every stage.  

“Everybody came together to make this clinic happen, even though they might have been scared or apprehensive about facing a pandemic. Earlier this year, I just completed a course on crucial conversations and I’ve even drawn on those skills for this role. Being able to talk to people who might be scared, and that fear might be presenting itself as anger, you need to draw from many different areas of knowledge to help them feel supported.”  

“Being a nurse here has actually been good experience overall. I don’t want to use the word ‘fun’ but it has been great to meet new people and get to know everyone on this team who I might not have worked with otherwise.”   

Recently, fingers are staying crossed as Johnson and her team start to see the amount of testing beginning to decrease at the clinic. “I’m so happy to be a nurse at the IWK right now. We’re all-in and we’re solution focused because we’re here for the patients no matter what role you play.”  

Being a nurse in this time requires the ability to quickly adapt to change, with even more collaboration and diligence than ever, but Johnson says that the end goal of caring for their patients hasn’t changed at all.