Nov. 8, 2019

University educator believes "there isn't a health system problem the nursing profession can't go a long way towards solving"

50 Faces of Nursing: Shannon Spenceley, MN’93
Shannon Spenceley, University of Lethbridge Nursing
Shannon Spenceley

Shannon Spenceley might have been a lawyer had a fortuitous position as an academic assistant at the University of Lethbridge not presented itself after she received her undergraduate degree in nursing. 

“I was seriously considering law school,” she says today, “and the university role, I thought, would be a good job while I got my things together for applying to law.” That is when she discovered her love of the academic environment and a love of teaching nursing.

Now, some 35 years later, she is an associate professor and researcher, as well as assistant dean of nursing in the Faculty of Health Sciences at that same institution. A graduate of Foothills Hospital and the universities of Lethbridge, Calgary and Alberta, she has served as an AARN and CARNA Provincial Councilor, president of CARNA from 2013-2016, senior leader in the former Chinook Health Region and then AHS in Southern Alberta and as an educator at the bedside and in the classroom.

Spenceley’s research has focused on the nature, prevalence and possible ways to reduce moral distress in nursing caregivers in long-term care settings, as well as on innovative models of community-based primary health care for vulnerable populations.

Tell us about the work you do and what drives you to do it.

“The drivers for me are the pride of profession that I feel, the passion for the profession I see in today’s nursing students and the sincere belief that there isn't a health system problem that the nursing profession can't go a long way towards solving.

“For example, 'continuity of care' is a wicked problem in health care — and the consequences of poor continuity became ever-so-clear in the experience of Greg Price, as documented by the Health Quality Council of Alberta (if you haven't seen or heard about Greg's story, you need to). As I watched the heart-wrenching story of this young man who lost his life as a consequence of a fragmented health system and poor communication among providers, I was left with the burning question: where was nursing?!

We are the profession best-equipped to join hands across the system and ensure continuity of care and good communication.

Our profession could, and should, have made the difference for Greg — and for all the other “Gregs” out there counting on our health system.”

Shannon Spenceley, University of Lethbridge Nursing

Shannon Spenceley

What's a memorable experience you had at UCalgary Nursing and why it's significant in your life or career?

“The many, many inspiring and creative discussions I had with my faculty supervisor, the late Dr. Marlene Reimer. She was one of the most critical elements of my graduate education: she made my growth her priority; she inspired me to question, think deeply and was unfailing in her support. I still think of her as my role model as I work with my own graduate students!”

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

“The rise of primary health care and the role of nursing within it — this is so exciting!”

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

“I see nursing leadership development as a huge priority for our profession. And I don’t just mean formal leadership roles in any of the domains of nursing — although this is also critical as the health system increasingly looks to our profession for this leadership. I mean the leadership responsibility that we all have as trusted health-care professionals.

“I see young nurses start out in the profession with immense enthusiasm and a desire for professional mentorship, yet it seems that there are fewer and fewer RNs that are willing or able to take on the responsibility for helping to develop and support these young professionals. I see this as an essential aspect of leadership, and in my view we need to do more work here.”

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

"Be the team member that everyone wants to work with and learn from--make yourself indispensable!"

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

"Excellent wine."

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