Heart to heart: The special relationship between nurse and patient

Interview with Clarissa Nolasco, nurse at the Institute's Heart Failure Clinic

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“My values as a caregiver guide me in everything I do. As long as I stay healthy and can be useful, that’s what I intend to do. There are so many ways to help others and make a real difference.”

From the moment she walked through the doors of the Montreal Heart Institute in 2006, Clarissa Nolasco has never looked back. The clinical nurse tells us about the unparalleled nursing care they provide, focused on personalized support, and their remarkably human approach, which makes the hospital so unique.

A philosophy of nursing care in which passion and compassion go hand in hand

Arriving at the Montreal Heart Institute in 2005 for an internship at the end of her studies, Clarissa discovered a workplace where things were done differently, where the nursing staff was happy and fulfilled. “As a student, you visit many clinics as part of your practicum. It’s very easy to compare a variety of working environments. At the Institute, people looked really contented. They were smiling. The nurses were cracking jokes and working merrily, and they enjoyed an uncommon closeness with the care teams, doctors and patients. To me, this seemed incredibly rare and precious.”

From the first moments, the Institute’s approach to care—which emphasizes patient support—struck a chord with the young nurse and her work philosophy, and she decided to pursue her career there. “In 17 years, I’ve never once gone to work without a smile on my face. I’ve never come in half-heartedly. It’s a pleasure to be part of this wonderful team, and it’s invigorating to know that our efforts make a huge difference for patients.”

The work at the Heart Failure Clinic: Caring for people’s well-being every day

Since she took up her post in 2006, Clarissa has worked within several specialized units at the Institute, from the Coronary Unit and the Surgical Unit to Cardiac Emergency and the research department. Today she’s at the Heart Failure Clinic, where each nurse is responsible for following about 500 outpatients, five days a week.

“We see patients every day—we follow them closely to ensure they stay healthy and maintain a good balance and to make sure they properly recognize the signs of a decompensation episode so they can avoid having to be hospitalized. We work with them over a long period, we get to know them, they tell us how they’re doing, and we support them in a personalized way. Since the doctors spend a lot of time doing research in order to offer the greatest number of treatment and care options, we help patients navigate everything they need to know so they can play an active role in their own healthcare.”

Being present: Caring beyond clinical acts

For this incredibly professional and warm-hearted nurse, her job goes beyond the technical aspect of care to include the human dimension:

“Patients appreciate how we take care of them, and they often tell us. The way I see it, a nurse’s job is to support, reassure and develop a rapport with patients. As a caregiver, this kind of quality relationship allows me to ensure they’ve properly understood what’s going on and that they’re able to trust us. It’s very enriching on a personal level. I know my patients, I talk to them, and they’re happy to see me at our appointments. Families feel supported, and that’s the way it is for all the care my colleagues and I provide.”

“We also share the more difficult moments, the loss of independence, the transition to palliative care. In those latter cases, we’re accompanying patients more than providing active care. We adapt to the rhythm of the patient and their family, and we’re with them right up to the end. It’s a deeply human aspect of my job.”

Clarissa recalled a pivotal moment from early in her nursing career: “I was watching a more experienced nurse at the bedside of a patient with arrhythmia, a woman nearing the end of her life. Very naturally, the nurse got closer, sat down, and held her hand to be with her as she passed on. I remember thinking, ‘This is what nursing is all about. Just being present.’ The nurse was there for the woman. And even though she could no longer see, she felt the nurse’s presence.”

Getting involved in order to change things

For several years now, Clarissa has been the Foundation’s official ambassador for the Emerging Leaders Committee, an organization that brings young entrepreneurs and healthcare workers together to achieve a common mission: rally people around the cause of cardiovascular health.

Doctors of the World: A unique partnership

For the past 5 years, the Montreal Heart Institute has helped the community by offering free healthcare to people without a social safety net, through Doctors of the World. As the initiator of this compassionate humanitarian project, Clarissa acts as the liaison between the international organization and professionals at the Institute.

“The team of volunteer doctors and I provide care for patients who, for all sorts of reasons, don’t have access to health insurance. I’m incredibly proud to be part of a project like this—the Institute is the only healthcare centre in Quebec that has a partnership with Doctors of the World.”

With a kindness that knows no bounds, Clarissa dreams of a day when universal healthcare is truly a reality. She also hopes with all her heart that the quality of nursing care and the patient-staff relationship, which makes the Montreal Heart Institute such an exceptional place, remains unchanged.

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