May 29, 2023

Class of 2023: Indigenous nursing grad returns to the North to begin her health-care career

Yukoner Jenelle Clethero heads home to Whitehorse after completing her studies during pandemic
Jenelle Clethero BN'23

Jenelle Clethero is from the Northern Tutchone and Tahltan First Nations in the Yukon. She was born and raised in Whitehorse and already knew from an early age that not only did she want to become a nurse, she also wanted to stay a nurse in her hometown.

“One of my uncles was in a serious accident when I was a child and lost both his legs and he always said how the nurses made such a big difference in his care,” she says. “And I wanted to be that for someone else.

“There are no RN programs here in the Yukon so you have to go outside the community.” Clethero started her undergraduate journey at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Kinesiology and ended up transferring to the Bachelor of Nursing program in 2019. The timing coincided with COVID-19 so when she was slated to start nursing school, she actually had to stop and wait another year.

“When the pandemic hit, I came home and I deferred a year," she says. Due to the travel restrictions in the Yukon, you had to quarantine for two weeks to come back into the territory and Clethero says it wasn't feasible for her to choose to not return home in 2020. 

When Clethero moved to Calgary to start the nursing program in the fall of 2021, she says being mostly online and away from home was challenging. “I personally found it stressful because I had to fly from my hometown and leave all my family and my partner behind, and I had to move into an apartment by myself. I kind of felt a little bit isolated there at the beginning.”

Being Indigenous herself, Clethero was happy to see how the Faculty of Nursing recognized the value of First Nations healing practices, of educating more Indigenous students, and how it highlighted learning about Aboriginal health in its curriculum.

She remembers doing the blanket exercise in Term 3, which is based on using Indigenous methodologies to build understanding around shared history as Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. The interactive exercise involves participants stepping onto blankets that represent the land and by doing so, engaging and empathizing as they learn about pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization and resistance.

“The university did a really good job of integrating First Nations health and learning about residential schools into our program. I was very impressed by how much they integrated that into the program."

"It made me happy to see all my classmates realize and go ‘I never thought about this or knew about this,’ and have them know, as now RNs, the importance of that. It’s easier to have compassion, especially here in Whitehorse, for those populations, and it’s an important scope to have.”

Jenelle Clethero with clinical group at Foothills Medical Centre on Unit 72.

Jenelle Clethero with clinical group at Foothills Medical Centre on Unit 72.

For her final practicum, Clethero chose to return home to work in the emergency room of the Whitehorse General Hospital. “I felt I just learned so much from being in a rural ER room — we saw everything from, like, 17-day-old patients to people 90 to 100 years old.

“I really enjoyed the fast pace and having new patients every day and being on your feet and having critical thinking aspect. I like having a new patient and being able to take in all of their symptoms through assessments and then being able to put all the pieces together. It’s like a new day, every day.”

Clethero says the experience of nursing in a more rural and remote setting allowed her to see how really sick patients were medevaced down south. 

"It made me realize how limited we are sometimes in giving care and that we just don’t have some resources available."

Because of the population it primarily serves at the Whitehorse Hospital, the First Nations Health Program provides and supports compassionate care for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people based on First Nations culture and values.

“At our hospital here, there are First Nations Support Workers so when you come into the hospital, they’ll ask if you are First Nations and if you identify so, they’ll have a support worker 24 hours a day come in who helps with navigating the social aspect like providing traditional moose soup broth, access to travel, supports in the communities, cultural supports and any additional social supports."

After she wrapped up the nursing program last year, Clethero spent two months travelling around Australia. She recently got a job at the Whitehorse Hospital’s medical/surgical unit but says she hopes to eventually return back to the ER as an emergency room nurse.

“I've lived here all my life and I am planning to do my nursing career here,” she says. “I’m really excited that I passed my NCLEX and I can call myself an RN. It feels amazing.”

Join our celebration as another class of enterprising University of Calgary students marks the milestone of graduation and begins making a difference in society, in fields such as health care, engineering, business and the arts. Spring Graduation and Convocation takes place May 29 to June 2, 2023. Learn more 

Read more inspiring stories about the accomplishments and journeys of the Class of 2023.

A note for soon-to-be UCalgary alumni: As you prepare to transition from student life, we encourage you to check out our Life Kit for Recent Grads — custom-built to inform you about the programs, benefits and services available to you as a member of the UCalgary alumni community.

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