May 13, 2021

Cardiac nurse practitioner receives provincial recognition

Nancy Clark instrumental in developing first cardiac unit in province led by nurse practitioners
Cardiac Nurse Practitioner Nancy Clark
Cardiac Nurse Practitioner Nancy Clark received a provincial award for innovation Image supplied by CARNA

Nancy Clark is tenacious in her desire to improve care for cardiac patients in Calgary.

A nurse practitioner (NP) with nearly 20 years of experience in the Department of Cardiac Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine, Clark, MN’03, spearheaded and designed the first NP-led Coronary Care Unit in Alberta. She now leads that unit, which is located at Rockyview General Hospital (RGH).

Clark’s passion is being recognized with a provincial award in innovation from the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta.

Clark is certainly innovative. She was one of five graduates in the first Integrated Master of Nursing / Nurse Practitioner program from the University of Calgary (2003). She blazed a path for the future as the lone NP in cardiology for several years, where she mentored and led the cardiac nurses and assisted physicians.

She went on to become the clinical lead for the RGH’s coronary care unit (CCU), which has historically been led by physicians. She continued in that role for a decade.

Her work caught the eye of leaders within Cardiac Sciences, who soon realized the benefits advanced-practice nurses bring to health care. The support of these leaders was invaluable in spearheading the NP-led CCU initiative.

Leaders within the Department of Cardiac Sciences are pleased with Clark’s contributions.

"Nancy has been a pivotal member in the growth of cardiology at the RGH through her collaborate efforts with physician leads,” says Dr. Nakul Sharma, MD, site lead at RGH. “She is both a team member and a leader and has never been afraid to roll up her sleeves and step in when our cardiac patients most need her. Her presence has always been a positive one.”

RGH’s cardiology program is one of the busiest in Calgary. The hospital has a 35-bed cardiology ward and seven-bed CCU. Before the change, it operated like most across the country.   

In the new model, eight nurse practitioners with specialized training in cardiology look after the unit. There is always one, and often two, of these highly educated professionals on duty. 

According to Teresa Thurber, former executive director of critical care and women’s health at RGH, the change has been positive. 

“This creates consistency and continuity in coverage,” says Thurber. There are professionals in place who “know the patients really well.”

Led by Clark, they work in conjunction with a consulting cardiologist to ensure the critically ill patients have what they need. These professionals are responsible for the first line of care in the unit doing everything from assessments and urgent bedside consults to diagnostics and treatments. The NPs are also the first point of contact between the emergency department and the unit and provide cardiology consults for the emergency team. 

Dr. Carlos Morillo, MD, section chief of the Division of Cardiology, notes that NPs now work in cardiac units in four hospitals in Calgary.

"Nancy has been instrumental in the development of the NP program, which is one of our citywide flagship initiatives that has had a significant role improving our cardiac patients’ quality of life and overall clinical outcomes,” he says.

NPs working in hospital cardiac units in Calgary are affiliated with the Faculty of Nursing and the Cumming School of Medicine’s Libin Cardiovascular Institute through the Department of Cardiac Sciences.

Carlos Morillo is a professor in the Department of Cardiac Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine, zone head of cardiology for Calgary and Southeastern Alberta Region and a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute.

Nakul Sharma is an assistant professor in the Department of Cardiac Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine, site lead for RGH and a member of the Libin Cardiovascular institute.