The May 12th birthday of nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale was declared International Nurses Day back in 1971 and since then, the second week of May has become a week-long commemorative event to emphasize the profession’s accomplishments as a discipline and to honour the hard work and dedication of nurses all over the world.

The Comox Valley is home to hundreds of nurses working in diverse roles throughout the region. Whether they are employed at the hospital, in long-term care homes, or within the community they are working every day to keep our communities and our loved ones healthy and safe.

Megan Cunningham, Mental Health and Substance Use Outreach Nurse within Island Health’s Outreach Services Team.

One of these exceptional nurses is Megan Cunningham. She has worked in the Comox Valley throughout her nearly two-decade nursing career focused mostly on mental health, both in acute psychiatry at the hospital and in community nursing within Mental Health and Substance Use Services.

“I’ve worked in a variety of roles, starting in 2007 at the old hospital in psychiatry, in the emergency department as a sexual assault examiner, for public health in communicable diseases, and in various community nursing positions supporting people with mental illness and substance use disorders. What I’m doing right now though is exactly what I want to be doing as a nurse,” explains Cunningham.

Megan currently works for Island Health’s Outreach Services Team (IHOST) serving the unhoused or precariously housed population in the Comox Valley. IHOST is comprised of nurses, an occupational therapist, support workers, peers, and physicians who travel to where people are in the community to deliver care. They are a mobile care team that supports some of the most vulnerable members of our community ensuring they have access to healthcare.

“I love the people I work with; they are beautiful people who care deeply about social justice. And I love that I work within a multi-disciplinary team that includes peers with lived experience. All of us want to connect with people where they are at. It feels like the purest form of support. We work to reduce people’s suffering in the moment based on what folks accessing services determine is relevant for them.”

Working outdoors is also something that Cunningham explains she is well suited for having grown up in a fishing family who lived and worked on a commercial fish boat for many months of the year off the coast near Prince Rupert.

“Fishing for 3 months of the year and living in very close proximity to my three brothers, my mom and my dad was quite something! It felt like a prolonged camping trip with less space and more work. After doing that, most other jobs felt like a vacation,” laughs Megan.

Cunningham’s upbringing taught her more than just being comfortable with hard work and the ability to find humor in most things. Megan describes herself as from a blended, adoptive family. She expresses a lot of love for her parents and siblings, and while she jokes about their unique lifestyle, she holds the values of adventure, conservation, adaptability, inclusion, and compassion that came from those early years close to her heart.

Megan trained to become a registered nurse at North Island College around the time her and her partner started their own family. Now, mid-way through her career with three kids and a supportive spouse, she is pursing a Master of Counselling degree with the hopes to augment her community nursing career with a private counselling practice. With all of this, Megan rarely has time to spare.

Megan with her mom hiking the Nootka Trail in 2017.

“I love hiking, biking, skiing, travelling, and cooking, but you know, right now, I just love watching my kids play sports and having a quiet snuggle with my little dog. I’m very aware of my privilege and incredibly grateful for what I have.”

When asked to reflect on the significance of International Nurses Day and the collective pride and celebration that is part of it, Megan spoke of the breadth of knowledge that nurses have and the passion she sees in her colleagues.

“I’m proud to be a nurse and I’m consistently inspired by others in my profession, particularly those who are giving marginalized people a voice, who bring lightness and humor to difficult situations, and those who are trying to change things for the better.”