Always a caregiver at heart, Patrice Gordon achieved her diploma in Nursing at Selkirk College in 1985 and at the 2017 Selkirk College graduation ceremony; she was honoured by her former alma mater as a distinguished alumna.
“This is a huge honour. It’s particularly special because it really takes me back to my roots,” says Gordon. “When I first went to Selkirk College I was a young single mom and I was terrified I wouldn’t be successful at this endeavor. Becoming a nurse seemed intimidating.”
Patrice Gordon (second right), Nursing Program graduate and Canadian health care leader, received the Distinguished Alumna Award at the Board of Governors Special Awards Reception. She was honoured along with Karen Hamling (left), Steve Paccagnan (second left) and George Grey (right).
Many years later, Gordon is a confident and compassionate nurse practitioner with a wealth of knowledge in her field gained through ongoing training and incredible lived experience.
“That caregiver role, wanting to take care of people that were vulnerable in any way has been part of my make up as long as I can remember and before, according to my mother,” says the Nakusp native. “Who I am really blossomed in the role first as a nurse, then as a nurse practitioner, because it was such a good fit.”
The adventurous woman quickly learned that the opportunities available for nurses were vast and fulfilling. Gordon went on to achieve her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Thompson Rivers University specializing in Critical Care, Emergency, Trauma Nursing and Flight Medivac. This led to her work in the Arctic as a flight medic, in the Andes as a high-altitude mountaineering medic and on sail boats as an open-ocean medic.
But many locals will remember Gordon for the years she worked in the Emergency Room and as a nursing supervisor at the Castlegar and District Hospital.
She left Castlegar to become a coordinator in the In-vitro Fertilization/Assisted Reproductive Technology program in Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Centre in New Hampshire from 1998 to 2003. Says her nominees: “Many families have realized their dream of having children as a result of Patrice’s work.”
Gordon then returned to Canada in 2003 where she resettled in Rossland and worked at the Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital as a Perioperative Services Manager and then as a member of the Critical Care Transport Team.
While back in the West Kootenay, Gordon also taught at Selkirk College as a sessional instructor in the Nursing Program. She is fondly remembered for her amazing abilities as an educator and advocate for student learning in all environments.
“I’ve always dreamt of one day being half the nurse that Patrice is,” says Selkirk College Nursing Program Alumna Carla Smith. “Her expertise is clearly admired and delightfully shared. The way she interacted with patients with warmth, caring and humour was beautiful to watch and left a lasting impression on how I nurse.”
Striving Never Stops for Gordon
Gordon achieved her Masters in Nursing as an Advanced Practice Family Nurse Practitioner from Athabasca University as well as specialty certification from the Institute of International Medicine in infection and tropical diseases. Gathering special expertise is important to her.
“It is always about wanting to be just a bit better. I see something and I think ‘I want to be able to do that. I want that skill so that the next time I’m in that situation I can deal with things better or manage things on my own,” says the 55-year-old. “And then because I am so excited about what I am learning, I want to share it. I really love the role of mentor.”
Gordon has been described as “never one to back down from a challenge.” She joined the military, went through boot camp and basic training to become a military reservist and member of the Canadian Disaster Assistance Response Team. The team is deployed to disaster areas around the world and in 2008, Gordon worked on a multi-national medical unit at the Kandahar Air Force Base in Afghanistan during the Afghan war.
“To be able to go and do these adventuresome things while giving something back is really incredibly fulfilling,” she says.
As an Emergency Response Unit Health Delegate with the Canadian Red Cross, Patrice Gordon was deployed to the Ebola Crisis in Sierra Leone in 2014. Gordon was captured here feeding an infant with Ebola in Kenema.
Soon after, she became an Emergency Response Unit Health Delegate with the Canadian Red Cross. Gordon has a deployment kit packed and ready near her front door as she could be asked to leave at a moment’s notice to disaster areas throughout the world. In 2014, she responded to the epicenter of the Ebola Crisis in Kenema, Sierra Leone, Africa.
“Working in the Ebola Treatment Centre was an incredibly powerful experience, with extremes of joy, sadness, hope, despair,” she says. “We went there to use our medical skills to help people with Ebola, but learned that our greatest gift was to give of ourselves – to give hope at bleak times, to share grief and celebration, to give comfort and friendship, all inside the fence of the ‘hot zone.’ I came home changed by the beauty that I found there – witnessing acts of kindness by Ebola victims so sick they could hardly move, but who used their last ounce of energy to help someone else. I learned to feel gratitude for every moment. I won’t forget that.”
When Gordon returned home after two months, she saw in the New Year 2015 in an isolation room at Kelowna General Hospital after she developed a fever along with other flu-like symptoms but the confidence in herself and the training provided kept fears at bay. She went on to test negative for Ebola and went straight back to work.
The Ebola Fighters were named Time Magazine’s 2014 Person of the Year.
Gordon continued humanitarian work in Nepal where she was the team leader in charge of a multi-national emergency field hospital in Dunche, Rasuwa District following the earthquake that devastated the remote region in 2015.
Her nominees joke that in “her spare time,” Gordon’s full-time position is as a Family Nurse Practitioner in BC’s Chilcotin region. For the past decade, she has been providing services to six remote First Nation’s communities and travels up to 5000 km per month ensuring people can have access to medical care. While Gordon serves patients worldwide, there are people close to home needing her help too.
While responding to crisis around the world, Patrice Gordon works full-time as a Family Nurse Practitioner serving remote First Nations Communities in the Chilcotin region of British Columbia.
“The standard of people living in First Nations communities is not where it should be,” she says. “There is a lot of need here. Things have improved a lot in the decade I’ve been up here but we still have a long way to go.”
In 2015, Gordon received the Golden Apple award and was named a Provincial Health Care Hero by the Health Employers Association of BC. As she is honoured for her achievements, Gordon says she is equally honoured to do this work with the support of her proud family – three sons and a husband who steps in as she is called to action to help make it all possible.
“My job is everything I could possibly want it to be,” she says.
Gordon never stops – when the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced it needed new astronauts in June 2016, she put her name in the hat. Prior to pursuing a nursing career, she dreamed of flying in space. The CSA started out with approximately 23,000 people and Gordon made it past three cuts into the top 600 applicants.“I never expected to actually head up into space – but I just wanted to try. We can actually go for anything and we may or may not be successful but no one is going to stop us from trying,” she says. “This is a message that needs to be told with passion. It doesn’t matter if someone laughs at you. ‘What?! You want to be an astronaut at 55?’ Yes, it’s funny, but if you want to give it a try, do it.”