The professional compassion of an IBD nurse

By Rasheed Clarke

From her early teenage years, Usha Chauhan was drawn to caring for others. No surprise then, that at age 16 she enrolled in the Nurse Cadet program – a nursing apprenticeship in the United Kingdom – and began her formal nursing training two years later. It was the beginning of what would become a career filled with professional accomplishments and caring relationships that now sees her working as a nurse practitioner within the digestive disease clinic at Hamilton Health Sciences.
 
Nurses are a vital part of an individual’s care team. That’s true no matter what ailment someone may be facing, but for people with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, being in the care of a nurse who specializes in inflammatory bowel disease can offer them an ally with unique understanding.
 
After specializing in gastroenterology for over 15 years, Usha was presented with an opportunity to be part of a pilot project that offered specialized care for people with inflammatory bowel disease.
 
“The project focused on providing patients with not just health service, but also information on disease management and health promotion,” says Usha. “After working in gastroenterology for all those years, I felt there was a need within the IBD patient population for that sort of service.”
 
By specializing in chronic diseases like Crohn’s and colitis, Usha has the ability to follow her patient’s progress over time, and develop more meaningful connections during that time.
 
“It’s important to build a rapport with people during their journey with the illness, and to be available both when they’re unwell, and when they’re feeling well on medical therapy. I’ve seen young adults move through different stages of their lives, through schooling, building their careers, getting married, and becoming parents,” she says.
 
One of the people Usha has seen through transitions is Shelby Hemingway, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s when she was 15, and who met Usha three years later when she made the move from pediatric to adult care. In the time since, Shelby has gone through another transition, from being a student to having a full-time job.
 
“I have a very positive relationship with Usha,” says Shelby. “She validates my opinions and feelings, and has always been thoughtful of my schedule, whether it was for school or now for work. She makes me feel like I have a voice in my own medical care, even though I don’t have a medical background. And through that, I feel more confident about facing Crohn’s.”
 
It’s that thoughtfulness and compassion that led to Usha to earn a nickname within her clinic: IBD Mom.
 
“One of the GIs in the clinic felt I was a motherly figure for some of the young patients, especially when they weren’t adhering to their treatment plan and I was able to get them back on track. I tried to spend time with them and understand what they were going through. No matter how old a patient is, they need to be able to tell their story and have someone listen,” Usha says.
 
When the workload gets heavy, as it so often does, Usha finds motivation to carry on in the comments of appreciation she’s received from her patients. “I get messages saying ‘thank you for taking the extra time to explain what’s happening’ and that reminds me to always listen and be truthful with patients,” she says.
 
And if Usha could offer some advice to the next generation of nurses?
 
“Be respectful to each patient, listen carefully to what they are saying and look at their body language. Treat each person you care for as an individual, and not as someone with a disease.”

  • Canada has among the highest incidence rates of Crohn's and colitis in the world.
  • 1 in 150 Canadians lives with Crohn’s or colitis.
  • Families new to Canada are developing these diseases for the first time.
  • Incidence of Crohn’s in Canadian kids under 10 has doubled since 1995.
  • People are most commonly diagnosed before age 30.

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