'Wonderful, caring nurse' retires
Jan Stirling's career spanned 26 years and three department names

Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 10/97) - Long-time public health nurse Jan Stirling shed a few tears last Friday remembering all of the people she's helped and worked with over the years.

Many of those colleagues, friends and clients gathered at the health centre offices in the Professional Building on Franklin Avenue to celebrate Stirling's commitment to public health. After twenty-six years of service, she's retiring.

"We're sad to see her go," acting nurse in charge Kate Hamilton said.

"She's had a wonderful career and her patients really loved her. She is a caring wonderful nurse who would go out of her way to do things," said Hamilton, a colleague of Stirling's since 1981.

Stirling joined the Department of Health and Social Services as a public health nurse in 1971. Back then it was Health and Welfare. And in between, the Department of Health.

"Public health nursing is the way to go. It's about prevention of disease and education," Stirling said.

"I loved the work. My kids said they don't know anyone who loved going to work as much as their mother."

Not long after she joined the health unit, Stirling became nurse-in-charge. She preferred a hands-on approach to management.

Born in Carlisle, England, Stirling grew up in New Brunswick and trained in St. John.

She joined the armed forces as a nursing sister during the Korean War and was posted to Japan where she worked in a British base hospital.

"There were wounded from all the Commonwealth. We saw all these young soldiers. They were so brave."

While she was posted in Japan she met William Stirling. They were married in Fredericton. But marrying a serviceman meant she had to leave the armed forces.

Back then, a woman could not stay in the services if she was married to a serviceman, she said.

Together they were transferred a dozen times and lived in 17 different homes.

But Stirling kept her love of nursing, working part time in the health care field at some of the postings.

While stationed in Germany, she was a school nurse. She rode the bus with her children to school.

While the family was living to Ottawa, Stirling attended University of Ottawa and graduated with a degree in public health.

While in the North, Stirling has visited all the communities. Up until 1985, public health nurses did the medical evacuations. In 1985, St. John Ambulance took on that role.

She pointed to immunization as one of the big success stories since she joined.

"We don't have children dying of measles or diphtheria," she said. Adults should make sure they keep up to date on their immunization, she added.

She stressed that the move to amalgamate social services, home care, mental health, and regional health programs like environmental health and nutrition as a step in the right direction.

"We have to work as a team."

With the successes, there are challenges, she added.

Among the biggest are the North's social health problems, such as alcohol, drug and tobacco abuses and addictions, she said.

Over the years, public health nursing has shifted from the health of the individual to community health, she said.

Individuals must take more responsibility for their own health and when they do, that means the whole community is healthier, she said.

Though Stirling has retired, she won't be far from the health care field.

The 1991 recipient of the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs volunteer service award, Stirling said she plans to travel and will continue to serve Yellowknife by volunteering for various health-related organizations.

She will continue to live in Yellowknife, three of her children and four grandchildren live here.