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Rural roots

Nursing professor emerita credits grandparents, outport life for success

Campus and Community

By Marcia Porter

Asked about her favourite go-to way to relax, retired Faculty of Nursing professor, Dr. Chris Way, gives an enthusiastic response.

Dr. Chris Way credits the influence of her grandparents and a life steeped in rural Newfoundalnd tradition for the success she as achieved as a professor and researcher.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

“I love berry picking,” said Dr. Way, who will be named professor emerita during the morning session of convocation at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre on Oct. 17. “I enjoy getting out there with nature, you have one sole focus and that is to find the berry you are hunting.”

It’s one of the activities she partakes in when she’s not sifting through the reams of papers and files she collected over 30-plus years as a professor and researcher in Nursing, where she was also cross-appointed to the Faculty of Medicine.

The distinction professor emeritus/emerita is open only to retired members of the faculty. To be eligible, a person must have served at least 10 years as a regular full-time faculty member at Memorial and must have held the rank of professor upon retirement. The prime criteria for nomination are sustained, outstanding scholarly work and/or service to the university.

‘Wanted to do so much’

A School of Nursing graduate from the Class of ’75, Dr. Way also went on to complete a BA in political science from Memorial University while working at the Salvation Army Grace General Hospital in psychiatric nursing, and labour and delivery.

“I had such broad interests, I just wanted to do so much,” she said.

She was also taking courses in business administration because her family thought she might return to Newtown, Bonavista Bay, to work at Beothic Fisheries, the family business started by her grandfather, Kenneth Way.

“My grandparents believed that, with the right supports, you could be whoever you wanted to be.” Dr. Chris Way

Though she returns home to visit her mother in Newtown every month, Dr. Way never did pursue a job at Beothic Fisheries, but credits her parents and grandparents for the successful career she’s enjoyed.

“I was my grandparents’ pride and joy and they were my audience. They would allow me to dress up, and one day I could be a nurse, the next a doctor, whoever I wanted to be,” she said, thinking back to her childhood and the home she and her parents shared with her grandparents.

“My grandparents believed that, with the right supports, you could be whoever you wanted to be.”

Nursing and research

Dr. Way enrolled in a master of science in nursing degree at McGill University; she worked in Montreal before joining Memorial’s then-School of Nursing as a faculty member in 1980.

She tapped into her rural Newfoundland and Labrador roots and honed her interest in community health while completing a PhD at the University of Virginia, setting her dissertation in St. Mary’s Bay and focusing on the impact of the cod moratorium.

“The fisheries had just closed so I was trying to capture the resulting environmental impact,” said Dr. Way. “I wanted to know what the people thought, and I did all kinds of papers, interviewed all kinds of people, the people who delivered health care, and people who lived in the community. I wanted to know how they thought we could improve the health-care system.”

She discovered that research was her strength and channeled her interest in health promotion, disease prevention, and community well-being into all her future projects.

Cross-appointment with Medicine

As part of her role in the Faculty of Medicine, she got involved in big projects about health-care restructuring and reform, dialysis care, and the genetics of conditions such as Lynch syndrome, all the while bringing a nursing perspective and role to the research.

“I always made sure there was a role for nursing, and I really enjoyed working with my students. They’d take pieces of the research, and everyone was trying to do something meaningful.”

“If you don’t interact with your patient, to figure out who they are, then you’ve missed the boat.” Dr. Chris Way

Her advice to new Nursing graduates?

“I don’t have all the answers, but what I have chosen to do is put the other person first,” she said. “You can have all the knowledge and skills you want, but if you don’t interact with your patient, to figure out who they are, then you’ve missed the boat.”

Again drawing on her sea-faring roots, she says: “You’ve got to be on board when the ship is going, and that is my best message.”

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