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International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife: Cathy Ulrich

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A smiling woman sits on a bench above a river.
Cathy Ulrich pictured in Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park.

The World Health Organization has designated 2020 the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.

As part of this year-long celebration, Northern Health has been highlighting a different nurse or midwife each month. For December, we close out the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife by interviewing Cathy Ulrich, the President and CEO of Northern Health.

Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us, Cathy!

Where do you live? How do you feel about it?

I live in Prince George and have lived in Northern BC, first Terrace and the Prince George, since 1986. I love all that Northern BC has to offer – the geography, the climate, and the people.

Tell us about your nursing experience and role(s).

I started my nursing career at what was then the University Hospital of Alberta in Edmonton. I worked in a high-risk obstetrical unit that served all of Northern Alberta. From there I relocated to a very rural area of Manitoba where I worked as a community health nurse in a one-nurse community health unit that was responsible for five rural communities and the surrounding areas. After approximately five years in this role, I relocated to Northern BC.

My first nursing supervisory, and then management, roles were in Terrace. When the first regionalization process occurred in BC, I assumed the Regional Director, Community Health Programs role in Prince George for the Northern Interior. Then when Northern Health was formed with the second regionalization process, I worked as the Vice President, Community Health Programs/Chief Nursing Officer. Finally, since 2007, I have been working in my current role as President and CEO. 

What do you like about your current role?

I think the best part of my current role is the people I have the opportunity to work with each and every day. Northern Health is fortunate to have a very committed group of managers, staff, and physicians across the region, and it’s a privilege to work with this group of people to provide health services and to improve the health of the population. This has become more and more evident as we have worked together to find a way through the COVID-19 pandemic.

What impact does your role have on patients?

My role has an indirect impact on the people we serve. However, I work to keep the needs of the people in Northern BC front and centre in my thinking as we make decisions and set out health service delivery strategies for the North. As I reflect on my career path, the opportunity to provide care and services is something that I miss; however, it’s also rewarding to be part of influencing what is possible in the North and for the North.

What has your nursing background taught you?

After nearly 40 years as a nurse, I am grateful for the grounding that I received in my basic nursing education, where I learned to seek to understand the person or people who needed care or services, how to plan, and how to evaluate. I also very much value the nurse leaders who I can count as mentors over the years, as well as those non-nurse leaders who have expanded my thinking and enabled my ongoing growth and development.

What made you want to go into nursing?

When I was in elementary school, my father taught school in a remote Northern Alberta community. While we lived there, I got to know the person who provided nursing services for the community. She was the only health care provider in the community. She took an interest in me and I can trace my interest in nursing back to this particular nurse.

What is one thing about nurses that you wish you could tell everyone?

I am constantly amazed at the adaptability and resiliency of nurses. I also know so many nurses with great compassion and commitment to improving the health and well-being of those we serve.

What drew you to NH?

I have spent the majority of my career in Northern BC in a variety of roles. I have learned a lot from the people and places across the North and continue to value the experiences that Northern Health has afforded me.

From the editors: Happy International Year of the Nurse and Midwife!

Thank you all for sharing your stories with us this year. We wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season!