Nov. 23, 2023

International student from Ecuador leads by example for other nursing students

Q&A with Term 7 UCalgary Nursing student Fernando Bejar Saona, grad committee co-chair
Fernando Bejar Saona

Nursing students are the future of this profession and already impact health care today and tomorrow as passionate voices and advocates for patients.

For National Nursing Students’ Week (NNSW) Nov. 20-26, we are recognizing the work and commitment of some of our undergraduate students at UCalgary Nursing by sharing their stories.

Fernando Bejar Saona and other UCalgary Nursing students on campus

Fernando Bejar Saona and other UCalgary Nursing students on campus in the Professional Faculties Building.

It feels like everyone knows Fernando Bejar Saona in the Faculty of Nursing. Even if you’ve never met him, you’ve likely heard about or know of Bejar Saona, whether you’re another student, staff or faculty member. Affectionately known by some of his peers as ‘Papa Nando,’ Bejar Saona has an infectious energy and charisma that’s apparent when you first meet him.

He’s an international student from Ecuador who started nursing school in another country in the middle of the pandemic. Back home, Bejar Saona says he began studying chemical engineering for two years but knew he always wanted to live and study abroad.

“In my childhood and early years, I've been surrounded by that passion for medicine and caring for other people because my parents are also involved in health care. My dad is a physician and my mom, she’s a nurse. My oldest sibling is also a physician,” says Bejar Saona.

While med school was an option, when someone mentioned nursing to him as a career option Bejar Saona says he remembers thinking “I had never seen myself as a nurse. In the Latino culture back there, most of the nursing profession is dominated by women. But I looked a little bit more into [nursing] and was like, ‘you know what, let's do it.’”

Now in his final year of nursing school, Bejar Saona currently works as a UNE in Unit 36 at the Foothills Hospital. His last four years have been punctuated by Zoom school, student engagement as an orientation leader, mentorship, student clubs and at the centre of it all, strong friendships forged.

“In nursing school, once you meet your pals and your people, it’s easier to get through it.”

With Joseph Ly, Bejar Saona is the co-chair of the Graduate Committee and they’re currently planning the grad banquet for the Class of 2024. “I want to make this a party to celebrate all the nursing students that went through nursing school during the pandemic. They sacrificed and endured a lot during four years of nursing school. I want to give them an event where they can go and say, ‘this is how I turn my page, I made it through nursing school, I’m now going into practice in the right way. It’s my time to celebrate.’”

Here are some additional questions we asked Bejar Saona about his nursing education.

Fernando Bejar Saona and Joseph Ly, grad committee co-chairs

Fernando Bejar Saona and Joseph Ly, grad committee co-chairs

Why did you choose to go into nursing?
“In nursing, I get to do a lot of stuff that I find value in and that I love. Nursing for me gives me that passion for medicine, to know things like medications, assessments, vitals but also connection, care, empathy and compassion. I'm more like a people person - I love to be surrounded by people and to take care of others.”

Why UCalgary for you?
“When I made the decision to come here to Canada, I applied to several universities: Brock University in St. Catherines, MRU and U of C. My cousin did her Masters at U of C so she’s here in Calgary and my other sibling, he did his kinesiology degree at U of C too. He finished school in 2019 so my first experience of campus was for my brother’s convocation. When I was visiting, my brother was able to pull some strings with his nursing friends and I was able to meet with the nursing faculty advisor which kind of helped me a little bit on guiding my decision and how to apply.”

What was that like starting school in the middle of COVID in 2020?
“I started my first year online back home because it was COVID, mid-pandemic. I think I had some sort of PTSD, stress or COVID exhaustion because I think the time difference between Ecuador and here was like one or two hours. It wasn't that bad, but sitting at my desk, trying to find motivation to go to classes and actually put in the effort, it was tough. Once I got here [August 2021], I was like ‘let’s start new, turn the page and put more motivation into this.’”

What area of nursing do you want to go into?
“So far, going through community, long-term care and high acuity, I see myself doing community maybe years from now. I’m that type of personality that needs to keep myself busy."

"I love the thrill and adrenaline and being put under pressure because that’s how my brain thinks best. I think I will end up in ICU or emergency.”

What are your plans after graduation?
“I want to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Being a new grad, trying to overcome imposter syndrome, I want to get comfortable with my nursing practice. I will stay here for a while and maybe explore travel nursing?”

Tell me a bit more about mentoring other students and how you got involved?
“Before, I didn’t see myself as a leader. But then I would always find myself in leadership positions. My brother was an orientation leader and told me to check it out. I did it my second year but it was online. Going into my third year, I did it again. I just had this connection to the new students and wanted to offer tips and tricks, something that I wish I would have heard in my first year. Faith [Moghaddami, UNS president], Joseph and I call them ‘our children’ and we’re still friends with them to this day. They’re in year two right now and in 2022, when we met them, we went out of our way to do campus tours and tell them to reach out to us. I’ve always said, in nursing, we’re in it together, it’s not a competition. It filled my heart to see ‘my children’ these first-years who came back themselves as orientation leaders. We started a chain reaction.”

Memorable clinical experience?
“After Term 6, I was working on the unit and I walk into the room and saw my patient mumbling; his speech was slurred, he was sweating. Something clicked in my mind. I told my nurse ‘I got my report and was told he’s independent but he’s not.’ So the nurse came in and did the assessment. I remember in my research, reading he was diabetic.

As a nursing student, sometimes we think our voice doesn’t speak louder and wonder ‘what do I have to offer?’ But I spoke up and told my nurse I remember reading he was diabetic. They checked his blood sugar and it was one [meaning] he was severely hypoglycemic. The next day, I was taking care of him and he was chatting with a nurse. He looked at me and said, ‘Thank you so much Fernando, for advocating for me because if you hadn’t said something, I wouldn’t be here.’”

Any advice for new incoming nursing students?

“Stay strong. Don’t second guess yourself. Find your crowd. And even if you think it’s a sacrifice, it will be a sacrifice that’s worth it.”

On Dec. 6, watch chooseucalgary on Instagram Stories as Fernando Bejar Saona shares more about his experience as a nursing student on an Instagram Takeover.