Wanda White

Job Title

Manager of Population Health

Department

Health & Social Services

Length of service with the GNWT

26 years - RETIRED

Education

Registered Nurse, Western Memorial Hospital
Bachelor of Science Degree, University of Victoria
Master of Health Studies, Athabasca University
Ongoing education in infectious disease control

What are your job responsibilities?

One of my primary responsibilities is planning, implementing, delivering and evaluating disease prevention programs in areas such as sexual health, HIV, syphilis, tuberculosis and immunization. As new infectious diseases come along, such as superbugs and the recent outbreak of H1N1 influenza, I am responsible for leading the Health Protection Unit’s response to these public threats in conjunction with all health care providers in the NWT. Ultimately, my job is to be proactive in preventing disease and protecting the public. In the event of an outbreak, our team works closely with health care providers, as well as leaders in the communities, regions, government and non-governmental organizations to control any infectious disease.

How has the GNWT supported your professional development and advancement?

I was supported to pursue my master’s degree while I continued to work full-time. Also, I have had many opportunities to take courses, which has led to an ever-increasing scope of practice.

How did you end up working with the GNWT?

I moved from Newfoundland to the Northwest Territories in 1987 with my husband and two young children, and continued to work in obstetrics. My husband had just graduated from nursing in 1987 and jobs in Newfoundland were not plentiful at that time.

Why do you enjoy working for the GNWT?

After 24 years, I continue to be challenged on a daily basis. We are mostly generalists in the North, and despite the small population, individuals and the wider population have complex needs. The span of responsibility and scope of practice for my position is impressive, and requires considerable public health expertise. This requires ongoing efforts with respect to research, development and implementation of programs. Public health is constantly changing with new immunization programs, new diseases and new approaches. The person who takes the lead must have the latest knowledge and be flexible with adapting programs to fit the northern context. The marvellous thing is the increased autonomy comes with increased responsibility, and as long as you are doing a good job and meeting the goals of the department and the government, there is full support for your work.

Can you share an interesting story/work experience with the GNWT?

During the tuberculosis outbreak in Lutselk’e in 1995, the community nurse was getting very tired and I went to help out. The nurse was a little down and it was January and minus forty, and we decided to cheer ourselves up. We packed a picnic lunch and went up on the hill and had a fire and cooked steaks. The northern lights and good conversation were our entertainment, and I will never forget the community health representative’s reaction – she knew we were crazy.  This is not something you would do in the South and I have hundreds of these unique experiences with my colleagues in the North and treasure every one of them.

What would you recommend to someone applying on a GNWT position?

Do your research and be realistic. Make sure you know the environment you are going to be working in, be respectful and quietly gain the experience and knowledge you need to do your job.  You will not get the same experience anywhere else, and as you learn the ways of the North, you can make a difference in people’s lives. I have an extremely rewarding career here.

How do you feel your job makes a difference for Northerners?

The NWT has one of the highest immunization coverage rates, which protects residents from vaccine-preventable diseases such as meningitis and measles.  I think the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer works well with the public, health care providers, government and non-governmental organizations – I am proud to be part of this valuable team.

What is your career path?

I started work as a registered nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit 33 years ago and moved into various speciality areas in nursing until I found my first love in my profession – labour and delivery. I worked in this area for 10 years and have delivered many babies. It is a magical area of nursing and the delight felt at every entrance of a new baby into this world cannot be easily replaced. 

I developed a back problem, as many nurses do, and decided to pursue higher education and what I thought was primarily a desk job. After working as the Communicable Disease Consultant for 19 years, I can tell you this is not a typical desk job.