Nov. 22, 2023

Undergrad utilizes nursing skills in the backcountry on adaptive wilderness adventure

Final term student Ella Hasselback on her Rockwall Trail adventure this past summer with CRIS Adaptive
Ella Hasselback
Ella Hasselback, final term UCalgary Nursing student

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.

Group of hikers in front on Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park

Hasselback (third from left) with other volunteers with CRIS Adaptive Adventures and client Greg McMeekin on the Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park.

Ella Hasselback is a final term nursing student at UCalgary Nursing who is born and raised in Calgary. She’s a transfer route student from psychology started the program in 2021.

This past summer, Hasselback went on an adaptive wilderness expedition on the Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park with Community Recreational Initiatives Society (CRIS) Adaptive Adventures, a Kelowna-based non-profit organization that provides outdoor recreation programs for people with disabilities through use of adaptive equipment. She spent three days hiking a 39-kilometer route, including two overnight stays in tents in different backcountry campgrounds, all while helping a client with personal care needs.

Hasselback recalls seeing the employment opportunity posted on D2L last winter. Greg McMeekin, the client, is a lawyer who currently works as the provincial advocate for people with disabilities in Alberta. He has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and a huge passion for the outdoors. McMeekin reached out to the faculty to find out if a nursing student would be interested in joining the camping trip in a caretaking role and Hasselback jumped at the opportunity right away.

“I am very passionate about the outdoors, specifically hiking, camping and skiing, and was very excited about the opportunity to combine this passion with my love for nursing,”  she says.

Ella Hasselback nursing student in scrubss

She ended up joining McMeekin and six other people including CRIS Adaptive founder Troy Becker and volunteers who utilized a TrailRider -- essentially a single-tire wheelchair with one person pushing and one pulling -- to get McMeekin up the trail. While the other volunteers helped with transportation and cooking, Hasselback’s distinct role was medical in nature, helping McMeekin with feeding, changing catheters, medication administration and overall care at camp. 

“I am so grateful to Greg for the opportunity to accompany him on this trip and learn more about the importance of making outdoor spaces accessible to those with physical limitations,” she says. “We were all there for the mutual goal of getting Greg to see the Rockwall. There was no room for self-doubt. It was empowering to see his reaction to the views.”

Hasselback says she always knew nursing would be up her alley and that helping people would be a fulfilling career.

One of the reasons I love nursing so much is building connections with people and getting to know them.”

She says her long-term care placement was the most impactful experience she had in the nursing program. Currently, Hasselback is doing her preceptorship in cardiac surgery at the Foothills Hospital. While she’ll convocate in June 2024, Hasselback says she is starting her career in cardiac surgery after she finishes her preceptorship in December. Staying open to possibilities is advice she has for other nursing students and her summer experience proves that it pays off.

“Try things outside of your comfort zone. I was terrified and I was really nervous going into it,” she says. “But this trip was the most incredible experience of my life, as well as an immense mental and physical challenge.

“Don’t write other areas of nursing off: there are so many directions you can go. It’s a privilege while you’re a student to get to explore those different avenues in clinical. So say yes to all the opportunities you can.”