UNB Alumni
Telling our #ProudlyUNB stories

Debbi Amirault has made a big impact in nursing in New Brunswick by bringing clinical experience to the classroom

Author: UNB Alumni

Posted on May 8, 2023

Category: UNB Fredericton , Nursing , Inspiring Stories

Debbi Amirault (BN’78, MN’01) was one of those people who knew from a young age what she was meant to do. Her sister Shannon experienced complex medical challenges from birth and the family spent a large chunk of time at Montreal Children’s Hospital, where Shannon endured over 30 surgeries. The experience for Debbi was eye-opening. “Nursing fascinated me. There was this whole community of healthcare professionals right there at the hospital. I liked hanging out there. I was hooked.”

After graduating with a bachelor of nursing degree from UNB in 1978, she gained a host of work experiences – from Newfoundland to Alberta to New Brunswick, and from pediatrics to orthopedics to emergency nursing. She loved it and worked hard, and then came back to UNB to begin teaching in 1992 and to complete a master's in nursing in 2001. She started out in clinical teaching at UNB on a casual basis while also working in the emergency department at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton and intermittently working in extramural nursing and diabetes education. She loved the combination of providing clinical care and bringing nursing experience to the classroom. “During my undergrad I actually thought about switching to education, because I loved the idea of teaching. In the end, I ended up with the best of both worlds.”

Debbi eventually took on a full-time teaching role at UNB’s Faculty of Nursing and became the preceptorship coordinator and in 2012 the director of the BN program. “Teaching, academic advising and supporting students are what I was meant to do, and I love being able to share my real-life experiences. There’s nothing better than the students and the energy they bring. They ask good questions that have kept me on my toes. It’s been amazing.”

Now on the verge of retiring from teaching after nearly 30  years at UNB Faculty of Nursing, Debbi is proud of what she helped to accomplish. “There’s a UNB nursing presence in acute care settings, in multicultural communities and in rural communities to bring health promotion and screening and education programs. We’ve created Nutsihpiluwewicik, an Indigenous nursing initiative that has brought more Indigenous students into the field. We stepped up during the pandemic at vaccine clinics and testing clinics and hospitals. And we introduced the Licensed Practical Nurse to Bachelor of Nursing (LPN to BN) Pathway to Nursing in 2020 that allows practicing LPNs to continue their education from home in their own communities using alternate delivery models. The 'Learn Where You Live' delivery model will help to remove barriers to access nursing education, That’s huge, because if nurses can be educated in their home communities in New Brunswick, they’ll stay there to work.”

Debbi gets emotional when thinking about what she herself has learned and what she’s most proud of during her time at UNB. “Working with Indigenous students in the nursing program has been enlightening for me. I’ve learned that equality and equity are not the same. What many of these students deal with at school and in life, and seeing their resilience, it’s compelling. It took a long time to develop trust and I’m proud of my investment in that. We developed an Indigenous Perspectives on Health and Wellness course as part of the program, and we’ve committed to 10% of admissions to all our programs going to Indigenous students. We hope the impact on Indigenous communities who need nurses – and on the healthcare system which is viewed as not meeting their needs – will be huge. And all students going through our programs will, as nurses, engage in cultural humility, become more familiar with diversity and ways of being. It will lead to a better and safer healthcare system.”

As she winds down her role as teaching professor with the BN program, she’s quick to confirm that she’ll still be working on special projects for the Faculty of Nursing. “We have phenomenal people at UNB in every department – it’s a wonderful community and I want to continue to do what I can to stay connected. The nursing grads who move on from UNB are highly regarded across the country, and many are leaders who are at the table informing governments about solutions and helping to make big decisions on the future of healthcare. Maintaining those relationships and continuing to build our programs to put more of those grads out into the world is important.”  

Debbi says that even before the pandemic there was a nursing shortage, and nurses are used to working in very challenging environments. “Nursing is hard work as are many professions. I choose to believe as nurses, we can have a positive impact, every single day!