May 11, 2020

Future RN believes in building community through stories

2020 Year of the Nurse and the Midwife: Hafsah Syed, third-year nursing student
Hafsah Syed 2020 Year of the Nurse and the Midwife
Hafsah Syed 2020 Year of the Nurse and the Midwife

In January 2019, the executive board of the World Health Organization (WHO) designated 2020 as the first-ever Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, in honour of the 200th birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

UCalgary Nursing will be celebrating the year with a variety of activities including a monthly series of reflections on the past and future of nursing and health care from our nursing community.

For nursing student Hafsah Syed, connecting people through stories has always been a part of her life. At UCalgary, the 21-year-old immediately found an outlet in her first year for her love of writing and photography by volunteering with Humans of UCalgary (inspired by Humans of New York). 

“Storytelling is very important. When you tell your story, you realize that other people have similar stories. You’re not the only one,” she says. “This relates to nursing, too, because in nursing you’re bonding with people, trying to connect and build community.”

Since her second year of the nursing program, Syed has also worked part-time as a student social ambassador for UCalgary’s social media team. She brings the voice of the student population to that role, posting Instagram takeovers and first-person accounts of events and highlights of campus life. 

“Hafsah quickly established herself as an enthusiastic and vital contributor to our Instagram storytelling,” says Sam Paterson, UCalgary's manager of social media. “Sometimes we ask her to attend events, but most of the time we rely on Hafsah’s knowledge of campus life and her unique student voice. We are incredibly grateful for everything she contributes to our presence on social media.”

Syed sees many parallels between her extracurriculars and nursing school as both circumstances push her to connect with people and find common ground quickly.  

“As a nurse, I will meet people I’ve never talked to before, never seen and they have their own life and stories. In acute care especially, you need to connect with people on the spot. You don’t have three months to build friendships: they need to trust you and feel that connection and warmth right away. You are also giving a voice for your patient.”

Hafsah Syed - 2020 Year of the Nurse and the Midwife

In 2019, Hafsah Syed was featured in The Sisters Project, a photography series that celebrates and shares the stories of Muslim women from across Canada.

Alia Youssef

We dug a little deeper with a few questions for Syed. 

Q: Last year, you were featured in The Sisters Project, which garnered over a million likes on Instagram.

A: The Sisters Project’s main purpose is to highlight that not every Muslim woman is the same. There’s a typical idea and particular image of what a Muslim woman is, but that image is not how most Muslim women are today. In the project, you see women who are doctors, who don’t wear the hijab, who go to parties and celebrate life in their own way. You’ve got all these different people breaking down stereotypes and biases — it’s the first step in bringing the community together, especially in the politics of today. 

When this project came out, a lot of people reached out to me saying that this was amazing; it was an inspiration. Complete strangers were reposting it on their Instagram. That’s when I realized that it’s not just my story — a lot of people can relate to this. The fact that people were so receptive was so mind-blowing.

Q: What originally drew you to nursing?
A: I didn’t grow up thinking I wanted to be a nurse but I knew my purpose in life was to help people. I also had a grandma with cancer who spent a lot of time in the hospital and I remember her talking about how the nurses were so nice and caring. That sort of sat in my subconscious; nursing is about more than just healing someone’s wound or fixing their broken leg.

Q: What does 2020 Year of the Nurse and the Midwife mean to you? 
A: It’s very interesting that the Year of the Nurse coincides with the year that the world is battling a pandemic. I think this is the perfect time to remember and honour the incredible work that nurses do. Nurses are absolutely vital members of the health-care team. Nurses are selfless, strong, and hard-working and they deserve the world’s recognition and respect.

Q: As a new nurse, what’s going through your mind living through the COVID-19 pandemic right now?
A: It’s hard to believe, but simply staying at home is an act of saving the world right now. The truth is we will be dealing with this pandemic long after it’s over. In the future, I expect to come across individuals who are suffering from trauma as a result of losing their livelihoods and loved ones to COVID-19. 

Studies are already indicating a rise in domestic abuse and child abuse cases. The impact of this devastating pandemic will likely be long-lasting. It’s unfortunate. It’s heart-aching. However, as a future registered nurse, I am preparing for it. I am preparing myself to help heal the community.

Q: What is the legacy of Florence Nightingale to the next generation of nurses?
A: Florence Nightingale was a young woman who went above and beyond to improve the lives of others. During a time when nursing was not a ‘respectable’ profession for a woman like herself, she refused to conform to the societal norms and persistently advocated for herself and others. She saved lives by doing so. As someone that’s a part of the next generation of nurses, this is the legacy I will carry forward.

Q: Set one goal right now for 2020 for yourself.  
A: My goal is to write in my journal every day, even if it's only a few sentences. I would like to reflect on my small accomplishments during the day and my goals for the next day. This will help me learn, grow and reflect every day.

Q: What do you see for yourself after graduation?
A: I would like to work at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. I never imagined myself working with children. However, during my clinical practice, I realized that I feel the happiest when I’m around kids. They inspire me. I also love listening to their funny stories.

Q: What would a world without nurses look like?
A: Devoid of health and well-being.

UCalgary resources on COVID-19

For the most up-to-date information about the University of Calgary's response to the spread of COVID-19, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Response website.