June 25, 2019

Paediatric nurse helps launch leading-edge medicine for Hemophilia A patients

50 Faces of Nursing: Sheri Lee vanGunst, BN’93

As a paediatric nurse, Sheri vanGunst’s career has followed a fortuitous path since her early days as a bedside nurse. Her first foray was into clinic nursing where she worked in paediatric rheumatology at the Alberta Children’s Hospital arthritis clinic, and then on to hematology, where she specialized in hemophilia and bleeding disorders.

In turn, vanGunst developed a passion for chronic disease management: “I loved the experience of caring for patients over time from birth to adulthood. I loved being a part of their journey and helping them learn to not just survive but also thrive while living with their chronic conditions.”

It’s this passion and dedication that make her most recent career development that much sweeter. In her current role as medical science liaison with Roche Canada, vanGunst has been involved with the launch of a life-changing medication for patients with hemophilia A. That treatment was approved by Health Canada on June 18 this year. 

“I have been thrilled to be a part of this because I know firsthand the difference this new therapy will make for these patients," she says. 

VanGunst with Roche Canada team on Hemilibra treatment for Hemophilia A

VanGunst with Roche Canada team on Hemilibra treatment for Hemophilia A

vanGunst’s daughter Kristi, BN'18also an alumnus of UCalgary Nursing, says she has watched with pride as her mother helped families manage hemophilia and advance their quality of life at the same time.

“Aside from consistently over-achieving within her job, she has also volunteered countless hours outside of work,” writes Kristi, who herself, has started a career in paediatric nursing like her mother. “My mom has also made me the nurse I am today, always teaching and mentoring me, which I am eternally grateful for!”

What’s an unforgettable experience from your time at UCalgary Nursing?

I did a year of general studies before going into nursing. I really struggled during that first year going from a small high school into university, not knowing anyone. There were more students in my biology lecture than there were in my entire high school!

“I didn’t have any classes in common with anyone so it was very difficult to make friends. Coming into the nursing faculty the following year, I instantly felt at home. Being in smaller classes with the same people, it was easy to make friends. I loved my clinical experiences because they gave my learning so much more context and meaning. My paediatric spring intersession was especially memorable because paediatrics was my passion and my instructor, Lynn Jack, was so supportive and nurturing.

“I ended up having a long and very rewarding career in paediatric nursing. At one point in my career I ended up working with Lynn in the rheumatology clinic.”

What most excites you about the future of nursing or changes coming in the profession?

As a nurse with specialty experience, I am excited to see that we can now apply to become authorized to prescribe drugs and common diagnostic tests. This will enable nurses to proceed with patient care faster and eliminate the need to have a physician sign off on orders in situations where the nurses are fully competent to prescribe.

“Nurses in these areas are often the ones providing guidance to residents and fellows and then asking them to sign their orders. This important step recognizes nursing as a competent profession and provides more autonomy for nurses.”

Kristi vanGunst, BN'18 (left) and Sheri vanGunst, BN'93.

Kristi vanGunst, BN'18 (left) and Sheri vanGunst, BN'93.

Is there a nursing issue you are especially passionate about or would like to change?

I believe that we need to find better ways of combining the role of the practicing nurse with nursing education. Currently, nurses working in a regular position who take on a student do this over and above their regular work. I loved being a preceptor for nursing students in their final practicums but I also found it very challenging to fit this in on top of my regular workload.

“I would love to see improved partnerships between health authorities and nursing programs that would fully recognize and support nursing education as part of the practicing nurse’s role similar to how medical education is provided.”

Your advice for aspiring nurses?

“My daughter is now a nurse and I have tried to impress upon her to be proud of the profession she has chosen. To me, there is no greater privilege than being a nurse. As a nurse, you have the opportunity to make a profound impact on patients and families at some of the most critical moments in their lives. Patients have often told me that they consider me to be a part of their family. I have been so honoured to know that I have truly been able to have this type of an impact on my patients. As nurses, we should never take this for granted.”

One small luxury in her life?

“My hot tub! This luxury item has improved my health is many ways: more relaxation, better quality sleep, less pain and more quality time spent with family and friends.”

All through 2019, we'll be highlighting 50 Faces of Nursing and profiling nursing members in celebration of our 50th anniversary. If you know someone noteworthy (faculty, staff, alum, students, partners, etc.) who you would like us to feature, tell us more with this short online form. For more, visit nursing.ucalgary.ca/50