With women representing over 80% of healthcare workers in our community, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate their care, knowledge, passion, and skill in looking after all of us, throughout every stage of our lives.

The Comox Valley Healthcare Foundation works with our community to raise funds in support of healthcare. We are grateful for the collective impact of our healthcare teams who ensure we have access to the best care, close to home. On International Women’s Day, we celebrate our female workforce and are honoured to highlight three exceptional women who are making a difference in our community.

Meet Dr. Sara Sandwith, a family physician in the Comox Valley with a special interest in maternity care; Corrine Haughton, a registered nurse and the Manager of Long-term Care at Cumberland Lodge; and Juvena Burns, the lead of Medical Imaging at the Comox Valley Hospital.

These three women, working within the three areas of healthcare supported by the Foundation, had the opportunity to reflect on some of the questions presented by the Comox Valley Record in connection with a special International Women’s Day publication. Our gratitude to Sara, Corrine, and Juvena for their willingness to share so openly and to RBC Healthcare for their generosity in supporting the publication of this feature.

Q: What is the best decision you ever made?

Sara – The best decision I ever made was to attend French Immersion School. Learning a second language provided so many opportunities, including an ad-hoc translation job working with a family physician on a high school volunteer effort in Haiti. Without my ability to speak French, I never would have met the person who encouraged me to become a family physician. And I never would have applied to the medical school where I met my husband!

Corrine – To pursue a career in nursing. For over 25 years, nursing has given me many opportunities but, first and foremost, the opportunity to provide compassionate care to others in the most meaningful way. Serving seniors in our community at their home at Cumberland Lodge and working alongside an incredibly dedicated, hardworking team is where I’m meant to be and how I want to contribute.

Juvena – The best decision I’ve made was to be courageous. This outlook has led me to do things like apply for jobs I didn’t think I was qualified for but then excelled at, approach difficult conversations that I knew were going to challenge me and complete my MBA while working full time. I know I am acting with courage when I feel my values are in alignment with how I’m showing up.

Q: What is the one skill you possess that helped shape your success?

Sara – My willingness to show up and listen. I believe you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room if you’re willing to come when you’re needed and try to listen with more than just your ears. I’ve seen how people are truly the experts in their own experiences and needs.

Juvena – The skill that comes to mind that I possess is my ability to read people. Emotional intelligence is a critical skill in healthcare. It helps me empathize, relate to others, improve interactions, and influences my decision-making and approach to various situations, including managing change.

Q: Who do you turn to when you need motivation or inspiration?

Sara – I remind myself to take the perspective of the little babies I’m caring for. Especially in utero, whenever I feel despairing about the state of the world, I imagine the perspective of the baby’s heartbeat I’m listening to, how they feel safe, warm, and snug, listening to the steady rhythm of their mother’s heartbeat; how, as far as the baby is concerned, everything is exactly as it should be. That gives me hope and courage to keep going.

Corrine – The team at Cumberland Lodge and our residents inspire me. Hearing what matters to our residents motivates me to ensure their needs are met and to help my team feel well-supported in providing care.

Q: What legacy do you think you’ll leave behind in your business?

Juvena – I believe that, when I leave my career, I’ll have been known for trying to create an inclusive, positive work environment where people had the opportunity to grow, share ideas and contribute to quality healthcare. I encourage an understanding that there is not one single way to do something; there is always room to improve. I believe it’s our responsibility to keep pushing for better processes, systems, and service. We always have something to learn.

Q: How has COVID affected you and your business?

Sara – It’s hard to process all the ways COVID has affected my work and my business. While we’ve been tested in ways we couldn’t have imagined, we also benefited from remaining deeply connected to people. I think the fact that we saw other humans every single day, no matter what challenges or difficulties they were facing, helped to keep us grounded and connected. It also helped us to know that we could manage COVID and didn’t have to remain fearful about it; we had the tools we needed to get through this.

Juvena – COVID has had a profound impact on the work I do. Operationally, we had to change our service delivery to protect the staff and patients, thus impacting access to care, and scrambled on a daily basis with the overloaded supply chain. Fortunately, two years later, these logistical issues have waned. It’s the soft things, though, that have been the largest adjustment, such as trying to keep up with the latest information, often changing within hours of updates, not having answers for staff, and figuring out how to allay fears and keep teams motivated. It still drives daily conversations and we continue to adjust to the changing landscape.

Q: What motivates you to get up every morning?

Corrine – My job and family. I have the honour of serving many seniors in our community at Cumberland Lodge and working alongside a tremendous team. My family means everything to me and as a mother of four beautiful children I love spending as much time with them as possible.

Q: What was the last achievement you celebrated (yours or another women’s) and how did you celebrate?

Sara – The last achievement I celebrated was a birth I had recently attended. It’s just so special to be present with someone as they transform from one life into two; no matter how that baby arrives, whether it’s the way we expected or after many changes of plan, bringing that little person into the world always feels like a triumph.

Q: How do you create a work-life balance and create boundaries for yourself?

Sara – Work-life balance and boundaries are a work in progress. It’s difficult to set limits when connecting with people is part of my job and feels purposeful and rewarding in my life. I have been practicing Mindfulness Meditation since March 2020, courtesy of Dr. Janice McLaughlin and her BCALM Mindfulness Program. She offered an 8-week session for healthcare colleagues at the start of the pandemic, and I’ve practiced everyday since (sometimes only for three minutes before I go to sleep!). Learning to be present with whatever is going on, without expectation and without trying to change it, has been an enormous help these past two years. It has helped me have tough conversations with care and integrity, and it has helped me practice self-love and self-compassion in a way that helps me set healthy boundaries while still caring deeply for others.

Thank you, RBC Healthcare, for generously supporting this feature.