While Kristy Poirier may be new to the community, she is no stranger to providing healthcare services and programming.

Her journey, ultimately leading her to become a Nurse Practitioner (NP), began from the point of view of a patient, one who was quite ill.

“When I was 11, I was a patient at BC Children’s Hospital. I was super sick with meningitis, but I had fantastic doctors and nurses looking after me. Even 25 years later, I remember the impact that they had on me,” said Poirier.

The doctors and nurses who cared for Poirier inspired her to start a career in healthcare, beginning with her becoming a registered nurse (RN) and working in neonatal intensive care at the same hospital she had found herself in years prior.

The nurse practitioner has been in practice at Conayt Friendship Society in Merritt since August of 2021, previously giving care as Registered Nurse at the BC Children’s Hospital, Surrey Memorial Hospital, as well as the Nicola Valley Hospital. The jump to NP is not an easy one, with additional years of schooling required.

“We have extra schooling that allows us to autonomously diagnose and treat illnesses,” said Poirier. “We’re able to order and interpret tests, as well as prescribe medications and perform some basic medical procedures”

Nurse practitioners are able to complete these tasks independently, while a RN would require the supervision or assistance of a doctor. Being Merritt’s only NP, Poirier days are kept quite busy seeing clients at her clinic in the Conayt Friendship Centre on Quilchena Avenue.

“I see about ten patients per day, and I’m here in the clinic Monday to Thursday. Previously, there was only a nurse practitioner here two days of the week.”

A nurse and family doctor shortage has existed within the province, and the country as a whole, for years. The British Columbia Nurses Union (BCNU) says that nurse retention, as well as a lack of education opportunities for those entering the field of healthcare, are some of the main driving forces behind this shortage.

Nurse practitioners are able to help fill the gap in services, as well as provide a different level of care in conjunction with family doctors, or general practitioners.

“We work in conjunction with family doctors to provide holistic care to patients. It’s important for people in Merritt to understand that nurse practitioners are a valuable resource to the healthcare community. We’re able to help out and fill the gaps,” added Poirier.

Conayt’s nurse practitioner program offers access to primary care for individuals who may not have access to a family doctor. While the scope of practice is similar, Poirier says she is able to spend more time with her patients, and participates in Conayt’s prenatal and postnatal care clinics.

Kristy Poirier serves her patients from the Conayt Friendship Centre in downtown Merritt. Photo/Kristy Poirier

Prevention of future healthcare issues have slowed down during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to public health and safety measures in place. Poirier hopes to see these highly important preventative measures come back with restrictions slowly lifting.

“A lot of the preventative health measures like mammograms, pap smears, and cancer screenings were held off during the pandemic because people weren’t able to come into clinics. Now that things have opened back up, we can focus on more of that preventative care now.”

Looking forward, Poirier will continue to provide care to Merrittonians, and says she is grateful for the opportunity to be in the community and bring about positive change.

“It’s great to be here in Merritt. I’m happy that I can help the community and move our healthcare forward.”