Patients in remote parts of British Columbia need quality health care just as much as those in big cities like Vancouver. Providence Health Care Patient Educator Sarah Thomas helps fill a much-needed role as a Home Hemodialysis instructor, helping patients and families across the province cope with health issues in their community.
Sarah has been a go-to expert in nephrology nursing for many years, teaching a specialty program at British Columbia Institute of Technology that involved clinical and classroom teaching, and emphasizing bedside critical thinking. At St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, she implemented a program to help hemodialysis nurses educate renal patients so they could be more independent. Sarah’s innovative initiatives have helped counter what would otherwise have been a lowering of health care delivery standards from a shortage of nursing specialists in this specialty.
In collaboration with a team of obstetric and perineonatologist, nephrologist and dietician specialists, she developed the very first home hemodialysis maternity care plan, putting this into practice immediately. She also developed the first Licensed Practical Nurse renal course. Today, she manages 20 home patients throughout BC and the Yukon Territories, by far the largest caseload of any HHD patient educator. She is involved locally and nationally with setting practice standards to improve the delivery of care for patients with kidney disease.
Caring for patients in remote communities presents a number of unique challenges. “For instance, how do you safely dispose of blood-tainted hemodialysis supplies when you live in a neighborhood frequented by inquisitive grizzly bears?” asks Home Hemodialysis Patient Educator Mary Lewis. It takes a special person with real compassion and energy to deal with these kinds of challenges day in and day out.
Sarah’s peers often see her going above and beyond the call of duty. “She offers on-call support seven days a week and makes house calls — even if it means making to trip to northern BC or the Yukon!” says Clinical Nurse Educator Lora Jensen- Almic. “Her patients are always her first priority.”
Working to be the best nurse educator she can be, Sarah is intent on keeping her knowledge up to date by attending many workshops and conferences. She also has undertaken countless hours of research and literature reviews. Not content with relying on routine practice, she looks to evidence to support her work and is eager to incorporate new learning into her own practice as she shares this knowledge with others.
“In 2012, a pregnant patient was transferred to our program so she would benefit from extended dialysis hours, giving a better chance for her baby’s health as well as her own,” recalls Renal Dietician Jennifer Hrushkin. Sarah took on this patient, contacting colleagues across Canada, reviewing literature and spending countless hours learning what she needed to give the baby a fighting chance. “Not only did the patient benefit from Sarah’s excellent care, but the entire team got a crash course in pregnancy and renal disease from all of Sarah’s hard work.”
An exceptional nursing educator, Sarah has helped change the system far and wide to enable patients to manage their own illness and be more independent. For that, both her patients and her fellow health care practitioners are very grateful.