My Experience with SNAP: Political Engagement and Keeping Perspective, by Cedar McMechan BSN Student

As students, we are fed many different messages about nursing. Entering the profession, we’re told it is going to be hard and push our limits. We’re told that school will overwhelm us (but don’t forget self-care!). It’ll be a catalyst for transformation and growth. We’re told to persevere and that, in the end, the reward will out-weigh the struggle.

As we learn more about the profession of nursing, our reasons for choosing this path become more diverse. Some of us seek out nursing for our sense of fitting the nursing persona: the über-caring, self-sacrificing, hard-working fountain of kindness, a destination felt to be set by fate or something similar. For others, it’s a fascination with the science of it. As one of few remaining bachelor degrees with guaranteed employment prospects, many of us also choose nursing for practicality’s sake.

I was led to nursing as a result of a passion for the political and social aspects of health. I chose nursing because it seemed like a sturdy vehicle where I could navigate the complex issues of people and their wellbeing. I envisioned (and continue to) that the profession would serve as a platform to deconstruct social issues, understand people in their historical context, and change the status quo. As the meeting place of people from all walks of life, a crossroads between public and private sectors, and an institution rooted in historically paternalistic practices, surely there are few better places to be politically active than in healthcare.

Given these interests, I was thrilled when I received news that I was chosen to attend the CNA board meeting in Ottawa this past March, through ARNBC’s Student Nurses in Action Program (SNAP). I had finally (thankfully) overcome my fear of needles, blood, and vomiting, and it seemed fitting to realign myself with my original motivations of becoming a nurse. I was not let down.

My experience with the CNA proved to be inspiring on many levels. The people, for one, were extraordinary. Where I thought I might find a group of nurses tainted by years of working in an infinitely resource-challenged system, I found a group of individuals that care deeply and passionately for the future of nursing. The meeting was carried out with grace, respect, a true sense of a shared vision and allied intentions. As a student, I was welcomed wholeheartedly and felt valued as a contributor in the room.

Perhaps the most profound aspect of this experience was the reminder of the importance of political engagement as a means of keeping perspective. As students, our perspectives on nursing are often limited to our patient interactions. It’s tempting (and sometimes necessary) to ignore the other aspects of the profession, and become fixated on the clinical skills we’re taught, or the content we need to memorize for an exam that week. However, when we do this, we run the risk of reducing nursing to a set of actions and tasks, and success in the learning process becomes confined to evaluation of these tasks. It’s easy to lose sight of the context in which all of our actions as nurses are performed. I certainly had lost this perspective prior to going to Ottawa.

Witnessing leadership on this level and being reminded of the political nature of health, on the other hand, reopened my awareness to how big this job truly is. I by no means intend to undermine the extraordinary importance of bedside work, but rather mean simply to express my realization that remaining politically active as a student creates a drive greater than that of the grades you receive. In staying connected to the challenges faced by nursing and healthcare as a whole, I am able to sustain my motivation beyond what school requires of me this week or the next. The privilege of being with those who have their hands in this kind of work made me feel better equipped to take part in the process of change, both as a student now, and a nurse in the future.

It’s a funny thing – to straddle the worlds of student nurse and professional nurse. Right when I think I might appear to be fitting seamlessly into the level of competence and professionalism at the CNA, I find myself in my hotel room, eating salad from a bag, without a fork – and remember I have a very long way to go before I can truly count myself among these inspiring leaders. Alas, there is a long, but exciting road ahead of me!


Cedar is entering her third year studies of the BSN program at Camosun College in Victoria. After completing three years of a previous degree in Global Health and Health Studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the University of Toronto, Cedar felt inspired to seek out nursing as a practical way to put these background studies into action. With two summer practicums in Whitehorse under her belt, she hopes to gain further experience working in Canada's North and one day pursue a future as a Nurse Practitioner.

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Mary Ann Morris

Thank you so very much for taking the time to share your invaluable insights about the critical synthesis between direct care practice and policy, both of which constitute valid foci for practice. Increasingly was nurses recognize this to be true, however, your perspective as a student clearly reinforces why this is so.

I look forward to our paths crossing as nurse activists. Best wishes for your studies this coming year - community health reinforces all that you discuss in your reflection.