April 18, 2023

Nursing Roots: Julie Burns, BN'03

Nursing educators at UCalgary Nursing share more on their teaching philosophies in practice
Julie Burns
Sessional instructor Julie Burns at Witnessed Art Show in April

At UCalgary Nursing, we recognize and value diverse ways of teaching and learning and how our faculty members use different strategies to engage and impact students that align with their personal teaching philosophies. Nursing Roots is a new monthly editorial series that will feature our nursing educators at UCalgary Nursing and highlight their teaching journeys and approaches.

Burns and her student group from Winter 2023

Burns (front row) and her N289 student group 5 from Winter 2023. From left in back row, Jieun (Jinny) Choi, Sheila Obguefi, Oghenekowho Jomaru, Dahye (Chloe) Lee, Hericka Alvarez, Caylyn del Rosario, Talisa Teflezduk.

Unlike most nurses, Julie Burns, BN’03 has never worked a day in acute care or in the hospital. Immediately after graduation, she went straight into community health nursing.

“The feel of community health nursing is really different,” she says. “I hated the sounds, smells and energy of the hospital. It was stress all the time. Obviously, a lot of my peers were excited by that. But I was one of three people in my class that did not go into acute care on graduation. The first 10 years of my career was focused on babies, birthing, lactation, childhood development -- it was all healthy populations and primarily younger populations.”

She started work at the Village Square Community Health Centre and says she did everything from baby and school visits, wound care to vaccines and communicable disease tracing. In fact, it was during one of Burns’ stints at a junior high school offering vaccines where some students asked why she wasn’t a teacher and told her that they thought she’d be good at it.

“It’s one of the things, where once the seed gets planted, you go, ‘oh, why don’t I do that?’” recalls Burns. Then, at a conference in 2013, she bumped into Carla Ferreria, former UCalgary Nursing instructor, who encouraged her to apply to an open position at UCalgary. She got the job and started that same fall.

Burns says that one of the biggest motivators for how she initially approached teaching at the time was: “I wanted to teach the way I was not taught, with compassion. I wanted to do this in a way  so people actually understand what they're doing and why they're doing it. Not just do it and maybe figure out why later.”

Julie at Club 36

Julie Burns presents and facilitates the PhotoVoice program with students and members, a program she created as part of her master's practicum.

Courtesy of Julie Burns

While at the time she felt new to teaching, she says colleagues helped her see that her community health background was great experience for teaching. “As a community health nurse, most of what I do is teaching,” she explains. “Going in and talking about vaccines, calming nervous parents, or when you’re in schools talking to kids about why you eat healthy; I had a lot of experience that I hadn’t recognized as teaching experience.”

She says health promotion is an important aspect of nursing care, and leadership and collaboration are important methods of reaching this goal. At UCalgary Nursing, Burns says the program prides itself on training practitioners to think critically and she wants her students to be creative and realize there are other ways to achieve outcomes they want. “That’s something that defines our program from other programs and I really want to be able to offer something to that end. Using an arts-based approach for scientific information is one way to do that."

“I believe that students are unique and come with the expertise of their unique life experiences, and my goal is to make sure that they have the ability and opportunity to put that expertise into practice. I strive for strong, confident students that know how to ask questions (and will ask them), and , as an instructor, I want to be able to meet the needs of a large, increasingly diverse group of learners with multiple ways of knowing.”

Students with Alzheimers Society

Students and members of Alzheimer's Society of Calgary completing and displaying the Opening Minds through Art process.

Courtesy of Julie Burns

A key example of Burns’s arts-based interventions with students over the years includes work since 2014 with the Alzheimer’s Society of Calgary, namely with its Opening Minds through Art (OMA) program. OMA was originally developed at Miami University as an art program for people with dementia and it was integrated into the Alzheimer Society’s Club 36  Adult Day Program in 2014 with the invaluable help of the nursing students.

Over the years, UCalgary Nursing has partnered with the society and Burns’ numerous clinical groups have done their clinical placements with the organization. The students complete unique interventions based on their own assessments such as art shows, fundraising dinners and iPod drives for Music and Memory. They also participate in one-on-one programs like the Alzheimers Poetry Project and more recently digital storytelling and improvisation with Inside Out Theatre. Burns says this past semester, they did a PhotoVoice project allowing clients to take their own pictures and photographs to answer questions.

Timeslips™ is a storytelling initiative that encourages people living with dementia to be creative and tell wonderful stories in a judgement-free environment. (This video is an example of a student-created intervention)

Burns’ approach to engaging students is creative, innovative and humorous. Arts-based pedagogy and safe, trauma-informed play are part of her lesson plans as well as student-facilitated discussion, guided and free-journaling, music, movement and mindfulness exercises.

“Providing students different ways of exploring and representing their learning is important to their confidence and to the application of their knowledge. I want to show students the horizon, and encourage them to do what is possible, not just what is asked.”

Nursing student with senior

Student Manveer Sandhu and member participating in Meet Me at the Museum of Modern Art, an art appreciation activity.

Photo courtesy of Julie Burns

Allowing for both success and failure and promoting an environment that rewards intellectual openness can lead to transformative learning experiences and Burns believes her role as a teacher is to “create an environment that is safe and nurturing, to give students encouragement to take risks, and to offer theoretical and practical tools to meet student identified learning goals, within the established curriculum.” 

Burns says ultimately she wants students to recognize there’s an art to the science of nursing and not either/or. Her goal is to help them build their confidence that they can get what they need to move forward. “In my head, I want them to change the world for me. All the way, I was told I couldn’t do what I was doing like ‘you can’t go straight into community, you can't use art to reach your goals, you need to follow what everyone else is doing.’ I finally feel self-acceptance that there is a better approach, so I’m going to do it my way.”

Burns is currently pursuing her Masters of Art in Arts in Medicine with the University of Florida.

Burns' artwork

Artwork by Julie Burns