An experienced nurse, Lacey VanEvery ‘06 has led her team and community through crisis.
By Meaghan Drury ‘12
Right as the pandemic was breaking out across the country and the world, Lacey VanEvery ‘06 was moving professionally from community health nurse to nurse-in-charge at ISC-Gane Yohs Health Centre.
“We had a goal to contain [the virus] as best we could,” she said.
This involved early mornings and late nights, battling not only the encroaching virus but extreme exhaustion. By the time she and her team knew containment was no longer possible, they had held out long enough that vaccinations were beginning to be available. Throughout those grueling months and years, Lacey relied on her team’s dedication and the support of her partner at home to not give up as the crisis was wearing her down. “I’m proud that I was able to hang in there,” she says.
Looking at Lacey’s journey to that point, it’s no surprise it wasn’t in her to quit.
Just over two decades ago, Lacey was working at a gas station, trying to make ends meet to support herself and her two-year-old child. “I knew I couldn’t survive on the income I was getting. I needed to find something else I wanted to do,” she says.
Speaking to an advisor from Grand River Post Secondary Education Office at Six Nations she considered several educational paths including a new program at the time, Practical Nursing with Aboriginal Communities delivered through Mohawk College in partnership with Six Nations Polytechnic. Lacey went into the program with some hesitancies. “The program was tough,” she says “It challenged me mentally and emotionally. Personally, I was going through some things at the time, but the support I had in the program was amazing. It helped me get through.”
The location of the program was a huge benefit too. “If I didn’t have that opportunity locally, I don’t think I would have pursued nursing as a career. It really helped me as I was able to stay close to my growing family,” she says.
Making connections with other Six Nations classmates showed Lacey they all had a common goal to better their own community. “We understood the concepts when it came to Indigenous health and learned how to apply them. My focus was advocacy, knowing that there are a lot of gaps in our community from my experiences and bringing that awareness to those outside the community [was important to me],” she says. “Community nursing is where I found my passion.”
After a few years working in the field as a practical nurse, Lacey was encouraged by her co-workers and mentors to continue her education. She enrolled in the RPN to BSCN bridging program at the Mohawk College Institute for Applied Health Sciences Campus at McMaster University.
Upon completing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing, she continued on to complete her Master of Public Health from McMaster University.
Today, as we make our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lacey has learned a lot through this health crisis.
Alongside a strong, vastly educated team at Six Nations, she was able to strengthen trust within the community. She says, “The community programs were able to create their own guidelines to serve us as a whole community and those guidelines were seen to impact other First Nation communities through the pandemic.” Being adaptable is a major cornerstone of the nursing profession. No better example of that is how Lacey and colleagues pivoted constantly over the last three years to ensure their community was protected.
She is now the acting nurse manager of Southern Ontario and Thunder Bay South zones for First Nation & Inuit Health Branch of Indigenous Services Canada and she has co-taught the Introduction to Indigenous Health Policy and Practice for Nursing at McMaster. In her role she’s learned how to navigate federal, provincial and local community governments by making connections and fostering relationships. Lacey has put a lot of effort into understanding the intricacies of all the First Nations communities she serves. “Being aware that there are different approaches in each community and not making assumptions about what each community needs or how they work has been both challenging and important work,” she says.
Her advice to other members of her community considering college is to “recognize that there are a lot of people that want to see you succeed and keep those people close,” she says. "I couldn’t have done it without the support I had. It’s hard but it’s not impossible. It’s easy to quit. But if you want to challenge your potential keep going and understand it’s only hard for now. It will get easier.”
Looking back on the struggles she’s been through Lacey sees all those things have developed her into the strong leader she is today.