Nursing Grad Brings First Nations Sensitivity to Her Role


Viola Rose Brown is one of 14 Aboriginal students graduating from UBC Okanagan this year - photo by Bud Mortenson

Grandma Rose was thrilled when granddaughter Viola chose to pursue a nursing degree after her first year of university.

“My grandmother’s health had been declining for a few years at the time, and when I visited her she kept saying ‘I want you to be my nurse’,” says nursing student Viola Rose Brown.

“Grandma Rose was always a cheerleader through my years at school. She wanted all her grandchildren to go to school and encouraged us to be focused and dedicated to our studies. When I got into nursing she was so happy.”

A member of the Okanagan Indian Band in Vernon, B.C., 22-year-old Brown graduates this month with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from UBC Okanagan’s School of Nursing.

One of the highlights of her education was a six-week volunteer mission to Western Africa last February and March, learning about nursing in the rural hospitals and clinics of northern Ghana.

Grandma Rose passed away just two weeks before Brown left for Ghana, but the support and encouragement over the years from her grandmother and her entire family have given Brown a clear sense of direction in her life: she wants to be a great nurse, and particularly a comfort to Aboriginal patients.

“Growing up, my parents taught me the importance of learning the values and teachings of my people’s traditional way of life,” says Brown. “As a result, I am now very active in my First Nations culture and it is a part of my everyday life.

“My involvement in my culture turned into a drive for me to go into the nursing profession. I want to be able to give back to my people and to assist them in improving their quality of living. Often that quality of living is low — and significantly compromised,” she says.

The Okanagan Indian Band helped her financially through her post-secondary schooling. The entire First Nations community in Vernon also offered tremendous encouragement, she says, adding that she received support for her trip to Ghana from family, friends and community members.

“I realize who I am today has a lot to do with my community,” she acknowledges. “I really appreciate all the support my Band provided — they’re the reason I am here.”

Her immediate plans are to enjoy being a nurse, gaining experience and applying her cultural awareness and nursing skills for positive impact in the health-care system.

“I’ve always found myself to be a nurturer, able to jump in and help when someone is sick or injured,” she says. “As a nurse, I’d like to emphasize the importance of being culturally sensitive — and being an advocate for people who need that support.”

Last year, Brown attended a conference in Prince George aimed at developing a plan to get more First Nations youth into health-related fields. As a new nursing degree recipient, Brown sees an opportunity to share with Aboriginal youth the kind of encouragement she has received.

“I think it’s very important for youth to see that it is possible to achieve great things,” she says. “Now that I’ve done the work and look back, it’s not as hard as you might think, but only as long as you apply yourself. I would like it to be an example for youth that no door is closed to them.”

By Bud Mortenson
UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 5 | May 3, 2007 (Click here for full publication)