Georgian College: Nursing faculty member committed to Truth and Reconciliation

Press Release

May 12, 2022

To mark National Nursing Week, May 8 to 14, we’re sharing stories about people from Georgian’s nursing community: graduates, faculty and students.

Today we’re introducing you to Dr. Deanna Bickford, faculty member for the new Honours Bachelor of Science – Nursing (BScN) program at the Owen Sound Campus.

Dr. Bickford has spent much of her career working to improve health outcomes for First Nations youth by amplifying Indigenous voices through research.

She has worked as part of a long-term partnership with a First Nation in Saskatchewan for over 12 years, through which she has learned about the importance of embracing traditional knowledge as a way forward.

As she completed her master’s and doctorate in nursing, Dr. Bickford also worked with Indigenous people in Africa and vulnerable populations in Regina, specifically around period poverty and access to menstrual hygiene products as a way to improve their social outcomes.

All of Dr. Bickford’s research centres around one concept: social justice.

She believes that good nurses, fundamentally, feel a strong commitment to contributing to the well-being of people and communities.

“On top of that, I’m a grandmother. I have grandchildren, some of whom are First Nations. So, of course I want things to get better for all of them,” she says. “That’s what drives me. I’m not an Indigenous person, but it’s personal for me.”

Dr. Bickford is currently developing a course on Indigenous health, Cultural Safety and Reconciliation. She looks forward to teaching Georgian’s first co-hort of aspiring registered nurses (RNs) this September.

Her goals are to help train nurses who can contribute to an environment that’s culturally safe for Indigenous Peoples and to equip graduates to be advocates for under-served people in a health-care system where racism continues to exist.

She’s also exploring research opportunities at Georgian. She specifically hopes to invite First Nations students to get involved in research with local First Nations people.

“Part of what drew me to Owen Sound is the opportunity to work with local communities,” she explains. “There’s a large population of First Nations and Métis people in this area and I don’t think their voices have been heard when it comes to health-care research.”

When asked what research questions she hopes to take to local Indigenous communities, she was quick to respond:

“I would never walk in with a question. I think one of the most important things I’ve learned from the people I’ve worked with is that it’s not my research. I’m there as a facilitator. I’m there to help amplify their voices and offer support.”

– Dr. Deanna Bickford, nursing faculty member, talking about working with communities on participatory research

Dr. Bickford believes that it’s important for health-care providers to embrace Two-Eyed Seeing, which is about using the strengths of both Indigenous and Western ways of knowing to create a more holistic understanding of wellness.

To help Georgian students develop this skill, Dr. Bickford hopes to invite First Nations experts into her classroom. For example, a local expert on traditional medicines might share their knowledge in a Pharmacology course.

“If you look at it from a Western perspective, there isn’t a lot of evidence for First Nations healing. But if you look at it from a First Nations perspective, there’s tons of evidence – centuries of evidence,” she says. “It’s about seeing the validity of both ways of knowing. Traditional medicine is just as valid as going to the store for penicillin. The science is there. It might not be Western science. It’s Indigenous science.”

Dr. Bickford looks forward to supporting Georgian’s efforts to decolonize and Indigenize. But she’s also ready to support all students, from all backgrounds.

She knows from experience that not everyone walks the same path to a career in nursing.

“I was a teenage parent,” she explains. “I had my first child at 16, dropped out of high school, went back and got my school credits, then got into a practical nursing program.”

After working as a licensed practical nurse for a year, Dr. Bickford went to Wascana institute where she completed her Registered Nursing diploma while raising three kids under the age of five. Then, many years later, she started at the University of Saskatchewan where she completed her post-diploma BScN, Masters and PhD in nursing.

She understands first-hand the impact a professor can have on a student’s life and career.

“I was wondering what path my career would take and then I attended my first Nursing Research course and I was inspired!” she says. “I asked the professor if she had time for coffee to talk about nursing research, and the rest is history.”

That professor, Dr. Pammla Petrucka, has been with her every step of the way.

“Not only did she inspire me to get into research,” says Dr. Bickford, “she was my supervisor through my master’s and through my PhD.”

We suspect Dr. Bickford will serve as an inspiration to many of her students, as well.

Dr. Deanna Bickford was honoured with the inaugural Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association’s Award for Excellence in Truth and Reconciliation, recognizing her commitment to Reconciliation throughout her academic and professional career. As a PhD candidate, she also won the CIHR Doctoral Research Award and SK Innovation and Opportunity Scholarship.

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