June 19, 2019

Retired faculty member's long and varied career leads to lasting legacy

50 Faces of Nursing: Arlene Johnston, BN'79, MEd'81

Retired UCalgary Nursing faculty member Arlene Johnston has had a diverse and rewarding 40-year career spanning roles in clinical practice, nursing administration, nursing education and consultancy and yet, she says, her greatest legacy will be her two children and a grandson who are all health-care professionals.

Johnston spent her first decade in clinical practice in Edmonton at the University of Alberta Hospital.

“It was a dynamic teaching hospital pioneering open heart surgery and renal dialysis and it was the beginning of greater technology in the nursing care of critically ill patients,” she says.

A family move to Calgary in 1966 coincided with the opening of the Rockyview General Hospital where Johnston moved into a role as head nurse, opening and managing the medical unit, a position she held for 11 years. The introduction of cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, a new practice, impacted major change in the delivery of nursing care.

50 Faces of Nursing: Arlene Johnston, BN '79, MEd '81

50 Faces of Nursing: Arlene Johnston, BN '79, MEd '81

After 20 years in acute care, Johnston joined the first class of the Post Diploma RN program in UCalgary’s Faculty of Nursing, graduating in 1979. She was immediately hired as an assistant professor by then-dean Marguerite Schumacher, tasked with coordinating and teaching medical-surgical nursing to third year students. 

“Four years of teaching highly motivated senior nursing students was a definite highlight,” says Johnston, who received the "Superior Teaching Award" in her first year of teaching.

A move east provided a career change to consultant roles. In Newfoundland, Johnston became the Nursing Practice Consultant for the Association of Registered Nurses of Newfoundland. In her next move to Ontario, she took on the position of Inspector of Nursing Homes for the Ontario Ministry of Health. Four years later, she returned to UCalgary and become Director of the Learning Resource Centre (LRC), Clinical Placement Coordinator and taught again in both the post diploma and BN programs. Johnston saw this as a time of immense momentum for the faculty, marked by innovations in computer programs and video production for student learning.

“The faculty also moved physically to the new Professional Faculties Building with expanded areas for the (LRC) and a communication and psychomotor skills lab which were really a hub area for the students,” she describes, adding that together with fellow faculty member, Janice Arbour (BN’88), their successes were presented at five international conferences throughout the nineties.

Johnston, grandson Christopher Ellis (MRU BN'18), Miranda Hawkins, BN'17, Margaret Trudeau.

Johnston, grandson Christopher Ellis (MRU BN'18), Miranda Hawkins, BN'17, Margaret Trudeau.

Johnston’s career has also been marked by volunteerism. In the 1990s, she was an elected member for Calgary on the Alberta Association of Registered Nurses (AARN) council and president of UCalgary Alumni, beginning the tradition of the annual lunch and silent auction and raising funds for scholarships. She received AARN's highest award as well the University of Calgary's "President's Citation Award" for her alumni contributions.

Even when she retired, in 1996, she was still active, spending several years on the boards of the Alberta Nurses Educational Trust and the Victoria Order of Nursing. Most recently, she helped to write much of the history of UCalgary Nursing Alumni included in a booklet in commemoration of the faculty’s 50th anniversary. Personally, an annual award (in perpetuity) was established for an undergraduate nursing student. The Arlene Johnston Bursary is administered through the Calgary Foundation's Arlene and Glen Johnston Fund.

In 2009 at UCalgary’s convocation, Johnston was recognized as a Distinguished Graduate of the University of Calgary.

“My nursing career has given me so many friends – in particular lifelong friends through the alumni groups from Saskatoon City School of Nursing and UCalgary’s Faculty of Nursing,” she says.

Johnston’s advice to today's and future generations of students and registered nurses?

"Good health is required for the complexity of a nursing career. Take care of your physical and mental health so that you can care for others."

All through 2019, we'll be highlighting 50 Faces of Nursing and profiling nursing members in celebration of our 50th anniversary. If you know someone noteworthy (faculty, staff, alum, students, partners, etc.) who you would like us to feature, tell us more with this short online form. For more, visit nursing.ucalgary.ca/50