September 1, 2022 | Alumni

‘It is vital we have a say’: U of T alumna Leigh Chapman on being named Canada’s new Chief Nursing Officer

By Rebecca Biason

Leigh Chapman smiling.

Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing alumna Leigh Chapman (PhD 2019) is Canada’s newly appointed Chief Nursing Officer. The announcement was made on August 23 by Health Minister Jean Yves-Duclos.

The reinstatement of the CNO role at the federal level is being applauded by nurses and nursing organizations across the country. It will bring nursing voices and expertise to the forefront of health policy and decision making in health care as the country continues to deal with unprecedented challenges in the nursing workforce.

“I am honoured and humbled to have this opportunity to represent nurses at the federal level,” says Chapman who completed her PhD in 2019. “I believe it is critical to have a seat at the table when decisions are being made about our profession and I look forward to working closely with the provinces and territories on addressing our health system challenges.”

I believe it is critical to have a seat at the table when decisions are being made about our profession

The role of the federal Chief Nursing Officer and the Office of Nursing Policy was eliminated in 2011 as part of the then federal government’s deficit reduction plan. With the reinstatement of the role, Chapman is hopeful that as CNO she will also be able to reestablish confidence in the nursing profession and inspire those who are demoralized by the current difficulties they are facing.

“Bloomberg Nursing at U of T welcomes Leigh Chapman’s expertise in this important leadership role,” says Linda Johnston, Dean of the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing. “Her advocacy, previous research and understanding of health policy will be an incredible asset to the nursing workforce and the health of all Canadians.”

Chapman, who has been a registered nurse for 19 years, is laser-focused on addressing aspects of health human resource management as she settles into the new role. Describing herself as never one to back down from a challenge, she is keen to deliver on urgent tasks such as nursing retention and recruitment, and the integration of internationally educated nurses into the workforce. She also seeks to be a stabilizing force for the nursing workforce within the health care system across the provinces and territories.

“There are over 400,000 nurses in four different categories of licensure or registration across the country, more than any other healthcare profession,” says Chapman. “It is vital that we have a say in human health resource planning and in our future as a profession.”

Drawn to nursing to touch people's lives, her own life was touched as well

Nursing was Chapman’s second degree and one she was drawn to because of the role’s ability to touch people’s lives. Nurses, Chapman believes, make a difference every day, whether at an individual’s bedside or in their family’s lives, in the classroom affecting change for nursing students or in formal leadership positions motivating and inspiring their colleagues.

As part of her doctoral work at Bloomberg Nursing, Chapman studied the relationship between regulatory bodies and employers of health care professions and spent a large part of her career focusing on health professions education broadly and nursing education specifically. She was also a fellow with the Wilson Centre, an institution renowned for its role in advancing the education of health professions through research.

While completing her PhD, Chapman experienced a personal tragedy as a result of the death of her brother from an opioid overdose, which led her to become a dedicated advocate for harm reduction strategies. Her atypical path to the completion of her PhD because of her advocacy work, would not have been possible without the support of her doctoral advisory committee, she says, who helped expand her thinking, analytical skills, and understanding of where and how her research fit within the broader health care landscape.

That’s the exciting thing about our profession, there are many things that you can do in nursing

“My time at U of T was so effective in instilling confidence in me,” says Chapman. “Most people in graduate education have moments of imposter syndrome, where they wonder if they will actually finish it. I would say that the belief in myself as a leader, as a health policy advocate, was instilled in me by the faculty at Bloomberg Nursing, and it is something I will be taking with me into the CNO role.”

Chapman’s eclectic career path in nursing is something she hopes will inspire other nurses to think more broadly about their impact in the profession and in health care.

“That’s the exciting thing about our profession, there are many things that you can do in nursing,” says Chapman. “Making a difference, being a leader, together we have the ability to change the future of nursing and healthcare.”

Originally published by the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing

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