Rene Lerat, Health Care that Makes a Difference in Northern Communities

Rene Lerat, Singing Bird Woman, has been a nurse for 12 years, and she’s passionate about making a difference in northern communities. She grew up on a reserve in Saskatchewan, and took her nursing training on the reserve. After completing her degree, she moved to Regina and started working in northern Manitoba, where she fell in love with nursing. 

“We get to educate and help people build healthier lifestyles,” she says.  

Growing up, Lerat wanted to be a dentist—either that or a grizzly bear! Working as a nurse now, she understands how her dreams as a child compare to what she does today, caring for and healing people in different communities. 

“Health care as a whole is important to every single person because at any point in our lives we’re going to need health care, a nurse to listen to us to hear your story and even to advocate for us in moments of vulnerability,” she says. 

Rene is proud to work in what she considers the “diamond of nursing,” a term that nurses use to describe working in remote areas, where their scope of practice is larger.  She provides emergency and primary care services to remote and northern communities. She says that it’s an incredibly rewarding experience, and that nurses have the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of those they serve.

“The most challenging part of our job is the responsibility,” she says. “And I think culturally appropriate care is a must.” 

Northern communities struggle with access to health care, especially Indigenous communities, which struggle with systemic discrimination in the healthcare system. The work of isolated nurses in small communities is integral. Sometimes, nurses like Rene may be the only health professionals available for someone in crisis. 

Together, she and her colleagues had to deliver a baby because the mother was too dilated to be air-evacuated to a central hospital. “Most pregnant women will leave the community two weeks before birth to make sure they have access to integrated care,” she says. 

Rene still sees that healthy baby she helped deliver, and continues to provide healthcare services like vaccinations and primary care to him and the rest of his community. 

Working through COVID-19 only called on nurses like Rene more to support people and communities most at-risk during emergency situations. The threat of burnout and overwork were looming during the height of the pandemic, but Rene says that she is grateful for the leave benefits PIPSC negotiated, so nurses are able to take the time they need to care for themselves. 

“Being a PIPSC member means you’re part of a community. We fight together in solidarity for pay and leave … and to feel supported overall.” 

PIPSC helps support nurses to make sure wages are competitive and benefits packages are robust, so northern communities can maintain the essential nursing services they deserve. Rene added that she would like to see more nurses servicing northern communities, to help lift up what often feels like a falling system. 

“Health care can sometimes feel like it’s crumbling, so advocating for more nurses to come up to an area where we are already working at minimum could definitely improve our environment.”

Rene also stressed the importance of health care remaining part of the public service, and fighting back against the privatization of healthcare services that often leave vulnerable communities to fall through the cracks. 

“Private health access would further burden the communities I support, and that is the last thing that Indigenous people need. I think we need to widen our public sector of health care and ensure that public access is there to ensure everyone is able to see the dentist they want or the physiotherapist that they want.” 

This is why Rene says it’s so important to be part of a strong union. “A strong union – behind closed doors – fights those battles for us.” 

PIPSC is dedicated to protecting our members, and pushing for better work standards, so people like Rene can do the good work of protecting Canadians when and where they need her the most.