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Judy Orr found her niche nursing in Fort Macleod

Judy Orr at clinic

Judy Orr takes the blood pressure of a patient at the Fort Macleod Family Medical Clinic. The College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta recently honoured Judy Orr for 40 years of service.

The idea of nursing in a rural setting was the farthest thing from Judy Orr’s mind when she started her training at University Hospital in Edmonton.
Orr planned to work in obstetrics in a big city hospital, helping new mothers and their babies.
But married life brought Orr to Fort Macleod and now, having worked all but one year of her 40-year career in Fort Macleod — Orr wouldn’t change a thing.
“It’s just serving the community,” Orr said of the best aspects of her job. “I think it’s being able to help people, and getting to know them. You sure get to know a lot of people.”
The College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta recently honoured Orr with a certificate recognizing 40 years of service.
Although the certificate is framed and displayed in her office at the Fort Macleod Family Medical Clinic, Orr didn’t really need yet another reminder of the passage of years.
“A lot of the time now I’m seeing girls who I was there when they were born now having their own babies,” Orr said with a laugh.
Orr followed her mother into the nursing profession, deciding in high school that was what she wanted to do.
The decision surprised Orr’s mother, who worked as emergency room nurse in Edmonton and did not push her daughter into the profession, knowing the toll shift work and stress can take on a person.
Orr enrolled in the three-year nursing program at University Hospital in Edmonton where she received training that was more hands-on than in the classroom.
“Basically we worked for the hospital. I don’t think they could have functioned without the nursing students. It’s not like today where they have mostly classes and a little bit of ward experience. For us it was just the opposite, we had lots and lots of ward experience and a few classes in between.”
That hands-on training served the beginning nurses well.
“We came out with our feet running and hitting the ground and we just took off.”
During her training Orr discovered she enjoyed working with new mothers and got her first full-time job in a maternity ward at a hospital in Edmonton.
After just a year Judy’s husband Peter Orr, who was from Fort Macleod, got a job in his old home town. Soon Judy was looking for work, and chose a position at Fort Macleod Hospital over another offer at Lethbridge Hospital.
“I wasn’t too excited about rural nursing but I got a job right here at the Fort Macleod hospital and that was the best thing that could have happened to me.”
The big city girl soon found herself enjoying the challenges, as well as the benefits, presented by rural nursing.
“Over the years I’ve enjoyed rural nursing — just the diversity.”
Orr started in Fort Macleod as a duty nurse and then moved into the operating room where she stayed for years.
When the provincial government regionalized health care, Orr became the unit manager. When the regional health authority closed the acute care beds Orr was briefly out of a job.
“Dr. Bennett asked me if I would come and work with him in the clinic. Because we lost so many doctors he felt a nurse working in the clinic would be able to help the doctors, and that worked out very well.”
The Primary Care Network now funds Orr’s newest position as advanced practice nurse.
There is no specializing for a nurse working in a small town hospital and Orr found herself still helping new mothers, but also working in the emergency room, operating room — wherever she was needed.
“There are just a lot of different things going on in your life. You really got a real feel for the whole spectrum of nursing.”
“It’s a specialty in itself. Just the fact you’re into so many different genres of nursing. In rural nursing you’ve got to know a little bit about everything. It’s exciting that way. That’s what I’ve enjoyed about it.”
Orr also appreciated that the pace in small town nursing allows her to spend time with patients and to get to know them on a personal level.
The diversity has meant Orr has had to take ongoing professional development. The College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta helps with that ongoing training.
“Nursing has really become so different than it used to be. There is so much more technology with it now than there used to be.”
If rural nursing used to be all about bed baths and bedpans now it’s about running the latest equipment and using new and ever-developing techniques.
Orr has embraced the challenge of keeping up with those advances, finding her interest in nursing constantly renewed.
“It spurs you on. You don‘t get stale. There is always something new to learn.”
Forty years after she started her profession, Judy Orr is sold on the benefits of rural nursing.
“I’m happy doing what I’m doing here,” she said of the chance to do it all over again. “I would go to rural nursing. It would be my No. 1 choice.”

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