Sept. 21, 2022

Flex Friday: Paul Linek

Flex Friday is brought to you by your VP Communications, Undergraduate Nursing Society to showcase the excellence of our undergraduate nursing students at UCalgary
Paul Linek
Paul Linek, fourth-year nursing student, UCalgary

Meet Paul Linek, a direct-entry student entering Term 7 this fall. Paul began his university career studying biological sciences before entering nursing to pursue his passion for health care. He is an integrated and outgoing student who positively contributes to the thriving culture at UCalgary, and you may even recognize him as one of our 2022 Orientation Leaders! Currently, Paul volunteers at Foothills Medical Centre (FMC) and is interested in working in the emergency department. Learn more about his nursing journey here!

Why nursing? 
“Everything I wanted to do was with people,” Paul said. “Nursing is all people.”

When asked about experiencing gendered stereotypes in nursing, Paul shared that encountering others’ perceptions will always be part of the job. “It comes with it,” he admitted. “I’m going to graduate and do my job, so it’s not a big deal.”

Although he’s never received any judgmental comments about his career, gendered issues continue to exist for health-care practitioners.

How has your clinical experience been?
Unfortunately, Paul didn’t receive a Term 3 clinical placement due to COVID-19. “It was fun though, learning the basics” he said. He began Term 4 during the height of the pandemic and said “you have to have a tough heart and thick skin and Term 4 was kind of tough. All the residents were super isolated and people couldn’t visit. That was probably the worst part.”

For Term 5, Paul was placed on a cardiac unit at Rockyview General Hospital with nursing instructor Allan Schaffer. “Greatest instructor ever,” he said, describing Schaffer as very accepting and caring.

It was my best learning experience. Good instructors make a big difference.

Reflecting on other clinical experiences, Paul shared: “I saw my first dead body about two weeks in. That was intense.” He highlighted that debriefing became a very important part of clinical practice in order to reflect on one another's practice and be able to improve in the future.

“It was nice because we would cry as a group and debrief after the shift,” Paul said. “That was one of my favourite parts. Having that connection with other people.” He also very much enjoyed working with his Term 6 instructor Nicole Gleason during his time on a nephrology unit at FMC. “She was fantastic,” he said.

In Term 6, Paul was able to connect very closely with one of his patients. “He was so funny and loud – we just had so much fun together.” Unfortunately, soon afterwards, Paul’s patient was diagnosed with metastatic cancer and was told he had two months left to live. “That hit me so hard,” he said. “I talked to my instructor and cried with her. I was like, ‘This is so messed up.’” Paul explained that his instructor truly encouraged everyone to be open and share their emotions throughout the term, which he found very helpful.

Paul with fellow nursing students

Term 6 was also an opportunity to learn a lot about wound care, and Paul quickly became very interested in the topic. However, he cautioned students to remember that patients still deserve that respect and dignity. “It was tough because we’re there and we’re thinking, ‘Oh that’s so cool!’ But you have to remember that the patient might get their foot amputated. It’s not always cool for them.”

For Term 7 this semester, Paul is excited to be working with older adults.

What were some of the biggest challenges during clinical? 
Paul admitted that coping with grief could be challenging. “Like my instructor was saying, some deaths just hit you like a truck.” He also discussed smaller challenges, like waking patients to measure their vital signs. “It’s tough because they’re sleeping and recovering and they might not have slept at all,” he explained. “I still hate it so much. I love my sleep, and I always feel so bad.”

Paul also shared that he finds the paediatric and geriatric clinical settings especially difficult. He has also found oncology challenging. “I can deal with it, but to actually understand what they’re going through and give appropriate care all-day? That’s so tough. You really have to be someone special.”

Where would you like to practice in the future?
“I want to do emergency,” Paul shared. “I volunteer in emergency and I like the population. You get young people, old people. So many different things and so many different people. And you’re the first point of contact. That is so cool to me.”

What volunteering or work experience has enhanced your nursing career? 
Paul currently volunteers at FMC Emergency and loves it, having recently became a volunteer trainer. That role involves directing visitors away from the triage nurses and managing patients in the waiting room.

In his first year, Paul was on the Year One Nursing Council and he has since been involved in research, studying nurses during COVID-19. This past summer has been his third year with the project. “We did a survey, and got 300 to 400 results. And then we did focus groups, just talking about experiences during COVID.” His role included coding data, transcribing focus groups and writing summaries for the project.

Paul Linek

Paul is also currently studying virtual reality (VR) and its role in treating dementia. “We’re giving dementia patients VR headsets and it’s giving them reminiscence therapy,” he explained. For example, their team can change the VR to mimic London, where participants once grew up.

When asked how he became involved in research, Paul explained: “It was first-year and I was just sitting at The Den with my buddies. One of them just got into med school, and told me about his research.” Paul was then inspired to reach out to every research professor he could find, and he eventually heard a response from his current supervisor, Dr. Linda Duffett-Leger (RN, PhD). He’s been working with her ever since.

Outside of work and volunteering, Paul is also interested in photography and has been hoping to start a club at the university for a while. “That’s the one artsy part of me,” he laughed. “I enjoy the memory and the emotional aspect of it, just being an emotional guy. You get to keep those moments and tell stories.” Paul has enjoyed using photography as a creative outlet ever since junior high.

Visit Paul’s website here to view some of his work!

What have you learned throughout your research journey? 
“Research is tough,” Paul admitted. “Nursing research is very qualitative.” He described that although qualitative data is certainly impactful, he enjoys working more with quantitative data. “That’s why l liked the survey part of it. It’s more definite data.”

Speaking more about the difficulties of research, Paul added: “A lot goes into it. It’s coordinating a team, and there’s so many levels of what needs to be done. So much writing and citing. It’s insane.”

How have your expectations changed since beginning nursing?
“It’s a lot of what I expected,” Paul said. However, caring for patients has been different than what he initially thought. “The patient-care aspect was not what I expected – actually doing it.” Paul shared that in theory, a lot of nursing skills seem very straightforward, but are actually more challenging than anticipated. “Trying to move a person – that’s stressful.”

What would you tell your younger self entering nursing?
“The job is emotional. It’s trying to take on people’s situations and give empathy, but not getting burnt-out and calloused. That’s truly the hardest part of the job.” He advised to remain open to debriefing and digesting your emotions.

“Just understand that it’s a people’s job and you really have to care and be interested in people to do this job and enjoy it,” he added.

The skills are interesting, but if you can’t look at a person and be empathetic – that’s just the job.

What do you think are your biggest strengths and areas of growth? 
“The emotional side of it: I feel like I connect with patients really well. Communicating well, having that empathy.”

For growth, Paul described that as a student, he often feels pressured to “go with the flow” and not cause conflict. “When shadowing someone, it’s tough to speak up and not feel like you’re just tagging along sometimes.”

Paul Linek and friends

Rapid fire!

Best place to study on campus? “Eng building, but not eng lounge. I like the row of desks by the windows,” he said. “TFDL is also a classic. Sixth floor - gotta get those views.”

What did you do over the summer? “Research, Stampede. Went to some of my friends’ cabins. Get that vitamin D, you know?”

Self-care or hobbies? “The U of C gym is nice, and riding my bike during the summer.”

Biggest role models? “My nursing instructors, 100 per cent.”

Thanks for sharing Paul!

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