Maryse Mathieu is a nurse at the CIUSSS de la Capitale-Nationale and has many other responsibilities: she is an executive nursing consultant, head of Info-Santé’s provincial protocols team and co-coordinates the regional on-call medico-social intervention nursing team.
A forensic kit for sexual assault victims already existed, but no nurses had been involved in its development. In 2016, the medical team had insufficient support and resources to provide adequate care in the Québec City region. In response to this need, the CIUSS de la Capitale-Nationale initiated a collaborative project with the team in order to maintain and improve services. A team of on-call nurses was created, available 24/7, to work with the medical team and Viol-Secours in Quebec City. Sexual assault victims now have access to three types of forensic services: medical, nursing and psychosocial.
Why did you want to become a nurse?
I wanted to be able to do something for people at the exact moment when they really need help. Being able to assist people in that way was one of the most gratifying things I could imagine. That’s where it all started. Afterwards, my vision naturally evolved quite a lot. Nurses provide a holistic service that takes all the different aspects of a person’s needs into consideration. A nurse’s role is extremely wide-ranging. If you fail to consider all the different dimensions of a person, you can’t hope to achieve your therapeutic objectives.
Could you tell us about one of the professional challenges you had to face while working with designated centres?
Organizing the service for maximum efficiency—for victims, for the professionals and for our partners—was a huge challenge. It wasn’t just a question of integrating the nurses who were there to hold material when the doctor didn’t have enough hands. We really had to find a way to take advantage of the skills offered by all the professionals in a way that would best benefit the victims. That was a big challenge, but our work produced excellent results.
We expanded the service offer to include men and trans individuals. We can also provide services faster in response to requests from victims. We also increased the types of services offered to include contraception, vaccination, immunology and STBBIs.
When I worked shifts as a nurse, I learned that the lives of some victims touch us more than others. It is challenging to work in those situations, as the trauma experienced by those victims run counter to my values as a healthcare worker.
After conducting a difficult medico-social intervention with a victim of sexual assault, what is your favourite way to decompress and clear your head?
It’s always important to talk about our experience with colleagues. In addition to debriefings directly following the intervention, we have team meetings with all the nurses four to five times a year, where time is set aside for a general discussion of different types of cases.
It is crucial not to keep everything to ourselves or to dwell on the difficulties we’ve experienced. Talking to our colleagues is both therapeutic and instructive, because we all have such different experiences. We need to be able to accept that we handled a situation one way, but that we could have done otherwise, that we could have managed the situation differently.
Working as part of a team gives us the opportunity to improve and benefit from the experiences of others. Since there are certain situations that arise very infrequently, it’s invaluable to be able to hear about what others have gone through.
What is it that motivates you to keep working with sexual assault victims?
We provide a service that is truly essential.
It’s inspiring to see that, here in Quebec City, we’ve succeeding in creating something that really helps victims, even if it’s not perfect. There are still improvements that need to be made, but in a very short period of time—two or three years—we have made substantial positive changes to services offered.
It’s motivating to see what we’ve achieved in the region and to be able to offer advice to other regions who want to improve their services. Certain regions are dealing with situations that are very specific. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we are an example to follow, but we have explored several options that are not only transferable but that could inspire the healthcare network across the province.
What advice would you give someone who was just starting to do medico-social intervention at a designated centre?
Don’t get discouraged! It can several months to become comfortable working in this environment. Never hesitate to ask for support—both clinical and psychosocial.
Some situations can be extremely disturbing and distressing, and they are not the same for everyone.
In addition to the long hours and challenging schedules, this is very demanding work. The strain of being exposed to trauma every day must not be underestimated. It is crucial to have the support of a solid team.
On a more personal note …
Latest good books Maryse has read:
These days, I’ve been introducing my pre-school daughter to the joys of reading. We love the books by Québec author Élise Gravel, who has the ability to transport us to another world through the eyes of a child.
Last good movie she saw:
I’m not much of a movie watcher, but I’m a big fan of the British series The Crown.
Her favourite song:
El arado by Victor Jara. It’s a magnificent song about hope.
Her favourite quote:
A few years ago, I accompanied a group on a solidarity tourism trip to Nicaragua as a guide and interpreter. We were walking through a coffee plantation on the side of a mountain, when I saw these words on a wooden arch: “Soñar con lo imposible. Buscar lo desconocido. Alcanzar la grandeza.”
I’m sorry to say that I don’t actually know who first said it!
(Translation: “Dream the impossible. Seek the unknown. Achieve greatness.”)
Her dream travel destination:
To travel across Asia by train from St. Petersburg to Beijing on the famous Trans-Siberian Railway.