Sept. 26, 2019

Pull out the shades - UCalgary Nursing associate dean says the future for nursing students is bright

50 Faces of Nursing: Catherine Laing BN’98, MN’08, PhD’13
50 Faces Catherine Laing BN’98, MN’08, PhD’13
50 Faces Catherine Laing BN’98, MN’08, PhD’13

A nurse for over 20 years, UCalgary Nursing associate dean for undergraduate programs Dr. Catherine Laing is still excited by her chosen career and for the students entering or currently in program.

“I just think nursing is the greatest profession,” Laing, an associate professor, said in a recent podcast for prospective students. “It is such a privilege and honour to be invited into the most intimate moments of people’s lives; we witness everything from birth to death.”

Because of that, Laing is pleased that the voice of nurses is becoming “increasingly louder.  Nurses have so much to say, not just about their patients, but about the health-care system.  Because of our unique view, we are more than qualified to change things up.”

As a frontline nurse working in pediatric oncology before taking up an academic and research career, Laing understands nursing is not for the faint of heart. “Shift work is hard; if you are looking for an easy profession, don’t choose nursing.” But, she says, the benefits outweigh the hardships.

“I always say to student nurses ‘skills are the boring part of the job.’ After a year, you know the basics. It’s that whole other side that is the interesting part.

“In my undergraduate degree, I remember sitting in a class and the course professor showed a grainy, old-timey film about kids cancer camp,” she continues. “It was unremarkable in the quality, but there was something about it that struck me so profoundly, and I knew in that instant that my focus would be in peds oncology. I've described it before as pediatric oncology choosing me more than I chose it.”

Laing’s hope is that the students she sees as an associate dean coming into the program find the same spark.

Catherine Laing with paediatric patient

Laing with paediatric cancer patient in Calgary in 2002. Photo courtesy of Kids Cancer Care.

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

"It sounds so simple, but honestly, it's around accountability, resiliency and performance. Our patients and families need us to be strong, capable, and resilient."

What piece of advice would you like to share with aspiring nurses?

"I think this advice might be contrary to what most people would give, but I would say if you find an area you love, stick with it - don't move around. I was so fortunate to have different jobs in my nursing career, but they were ALL in peds oncology. Even now, I still like to think of myself as working in peds oncology, albeit in a different way."

Is there one luxury in life you would rather not live without?

"The internet! I love when my family is sitting around the dinner table asking questions, then one of us just looks up the answer through Google. I always tell my kids that when I was young, most of these questions were unknowable (at least in real time)!"

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