Dec. 1, 2020

What it takes to combine athletics and the nursing program

Three Academic All-Canadians from UCalgary Nursing share their insights
Ashley Ly - AAC winner
Ashley Ly

UCalgary Nursing is proud to have four 2019 - 2020 Academic All-Canadian (AAC) athletes as part of a record-breaking 210 athletes to earn the honour at the University of Calgary. This status is awarded to all Canadian university student-athletes who achieve high academic standing while competing for their university (UCalgary’s cutoff is a GPA of 3.30).

Following are the reflections of three of our AAC recipients on what it takes to combine a demanding athletic career with nursing studies, future plans in nursing and what it means to accomplish the AAC status during 2020 Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. (Anok Tiordit, a member of the track and field team, is the fourth UCalgary Nursing AAC athlete.)

Ashley Ly 2

Ashley Ly

Ashley Ly, BN’20 

"​I was a member of the track and field team for all four years of my undergraduate degree. I competed in long and triple jump. I came into the nursing program directly from high school where I also did track and field for the school and recreationally whenever the season came around. In my last year of high school, I was offered to train with the Dinos team when I entered UCalgary. 

I am part of the 2020 graduate class and currently work at Foothills Hospital on a Hematology/Oncology/Bone Marrow Transplant unit where I did my final practicum. I happened to get lucky and landed a job as an RN in the specialty I had started growing a passion and interest in while I was still doing my undergrad. I somehow managed to get my final three placements in nursing school focused around hematology and bone and blood marrow transplant in both the adult and paediatric world and I think that contributed a great amount to why I am working where I am today and loving it. 

The last two years of the nursing program is when I started to truly realize the realities of how difficult it can being both an athlete and a nursing student. During my preceptorship, there were days when I was going straight from an eight hour shift, where I was on my feet the entire day, to a three hour practice right after, to then trying to cram in any studying I could get.

Additionally, I worked as a health-care aide at the hospital on my days off. While I was trying to get my preceptorship hours done as quick as I could to accommodate for our traveling schedule with track, there were times where I would be working in a hospital for 14 days straight bouncing between my roles as a nursing student and care aide. I would be lying to say that there was never the doubt in my mind to just quit and focus on academics as that was my first priority. There were definitely times where I felt I was starting to get burnt out mentally and physically. However, I am very grateful for my coaches for their understanding and accommodating  my complicated schedule, and for my teammates who were cheering me on to compete in my final year. I am very grateful I was able to compete to my fullest in my final year as a Dino and even end off my athletic career with personal bests and great memories. I can't begin to imagine what it must feel like tackling the challenges of a pandemic for any athletes still presently training.

I graduated at the time when COVID-19 first hit and when we first realized how much uncertainty there was going to be for the next couple of weeks, months or maybe even years. In your final year, you are working alongside your preceptor practically full-time in order to achieve your practicum hours. I remember getting an email letting us know that our practice hours would be cut a significant amount due to the pandemic. I had a small internal fear of "I don't know if I am ready to be on my own now." In terms of athletics, track and field was one of the sports that was lucky enough to be able to complete their full season, but as it was my final year on the team, it was an odd feeling not being able to celebrate with teammates on accomplishments we had individually and as a team as we had done before. In a sense, I am very lucky to have been able to fully compete in my last year as a Dinos’ athlete and even end off my athletic career with personal bests and great memories. I can't begin to imagine what it must feel like tackling the challenges of a pandemic for any athletes still presently training."

Rachel Paul

Rachel Paul

Rachel Paul

"I'm in my fifth year playing for the Dinos Women’s Hockey team and in my second year of the nursing transfer degree.  I committed to the UCalgary team directly out of high school where I played female AAA hockey. 

My goal is to eventually become a neonatal nurse practitioner but I am also very excited to work as a bedside RN after graduation next year. 

It has definitely been bit of a disappointing year especially with our seasons being cancelled but even so, I am still very blessed to be able to practice and train with my team to some extent. There have been times in the summer working in long-term care and during this semester when I leave the hospital stressed out and drained, but then I get to go to the rink and be surrounded by my special teammates which always picks me up. It is difficult to balance nursing school and athletics but most people in this program have commitments (kids, jobs, etc.) so I am always thankful that my "job" is the sport I love.

It is pretty special that the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife is the year that I think the world truly began to appreciate health-care workers for what we do. Personally, this summer I worked in a long-term care that got hit hard by COVID but despite the stress I got to witness first-hand the incredible fight and relentless leadership demonstrated by the charge RNs, LPNs, HCAs and administration. This was so inspiring to me and despite the uncertainties faced in school and the health-care field in general right now, it totally solidified that this is the career I am meant to be in."

Damiane Van Wieren

Damiane Van Wieren

Damiane Van Wieren

"I’m in year four and on the women’s soccer team. I took a year off after high school before starting university to travel and attend a semester at Capernwray Bible School in Austria. I played soccer growing up and throughout high school.

My career goals for the future are to work as a nurse in a hospital, though I don’t know what unit would interest me most. I am interested in working on a fast paced unit such as emergency and am also interested in paediatrics.

One of the biggest challenges of combining a nursing program with athletics is travelling with the team and having to miss clinical hours and lectures. The clinical hours are critical to attend and the lectures cover a lot of material so it is tough when you have to miss anything.

I am so thankful to have a coach that understands that I am ultimately at university for my academics first. I am thankful for his support in communicating with nursing staff and being able to work around school best he can so that I can be successful in both school and sport. Though the stress of travel is gone in this time of the pandemic, it has been a challenge to safely practice and meet as a team. The team environment is so important in university. As I do not have the spare time to join clubs or other activities, the team is also a huge social factor that benefits mental health.

The fact that 2020 is the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife makes me feel extra honoured because it acknowledges the importance of the profession I have decided to study. It encourages me when school is getting tough that I made the right choice and that it is all worth it."