• Ignite

Nurses Who Inspire: Carla Tilley, PhD(c), EdD(c), MN, RN, CNCC

Updated: Jul 13


RESOLVE TO LISTEN AND LEARN

We all make the right decision at the right moment given what we know at that moment—there are no right or wrong turns because we continue to learn.

We interviewed Carla Tilley, a nurse educator currently facilitating baccalaureate and graduate-level education in nursing and allied health. Carla works with internationally educated nurses from around the world as they transition into Canadian nursing practice.


Ignite:

Where are you from and what drives your passion to be in nursing?

Carla:

I live on the beautiful West Coast of Canada. I have always wanted to be a nurse but started my journey in education. Now I have the best career in the world, as I get to combine my two passions in nursing and education!

Ignite:

Can you guide us through the step-by-step process you traversed to get to where you are today in your career?

Carla:

I started in education working in early childhood settings and then as a resource room teacher in the K-6 system. One of my responsibilities was to design programming for children with various physical and cognitive needs to make school a more welcoming place where they could integrate into these new settings and thrive. Working collaboratively with other faculty, parents, and kids, I discovered that I needed to learn more about these children and how best to support them. I went back to school and obtained certification in BST, Rehabilitation Skills Development.

My next significant career shift came when large institutions for cognitively impaired adults were shifting to more community-based settings. One of my responsibilities was to develop programming and support adults with special needs in home and vocational settings. As more clients came into community, I realized I needed to know more about their medical needs. I went back to school and became an RN. In my RN role, I have worked in many places; small community settings to tertiary care hospitals. I have worked in all areas of nursing from peds to palliative care, and with clients throughout their lifespan. If you were to ask me what area of practice is my favorite? They all were, as I learned so much from the clients who have shared their experiences with me. While in practice, an opportunity came forward to support new graduate nurses as they transition into practice. I took on this role and, you guessed it, I went back to school.


Today I hold a variety of certifications, diplomas, and degrees, and I still feel there is so much more to learn.

Ignite:

What is your workday like?

Carla:

Well, my workday depends on the day, as I hold multiple roles and responsibilities. Typically, I like to start my day with a cup of coffee and gratitude. Then, I try to read up on what’s going on in the world—knowing what is happening in the world impacts many people in different ways. Being aware of these global issues helps me to understand how my students, or the people in my circle, could be experiencing these very issues. Sometimes we don’t have to say anything; how someone is feeling comes out in their behavior and in what they say and do. It’s my heads-up for the day. Then I start my list; what do I need to accomplish today, and prioritize it.

If I were to look back at this last academic term, I would say that I supported fourth-year nursing students in their final preceptorship in clinical and online. In addition, I taught two master-level courses; one on health systems evaluation and the other on issues and trends in healthcare. Both courses were taught online. I also supported a nursing faculty team at another university as they learned to shift face-to-face courses to an online environment. Somewhere in between, I am always engaged in mentoring and in continuing my doctoral work.

Ignite:

Looking back, what moment or piece of advice had the greatest impact on your professional development?

Carla:

Good question! I have two answers to this question. The first is that my journey could not be possible without the support of my family. I have been married for thirty-eight years, have four amazing children and three spectacular grandchildren (so far!). They have always supported me, especially when I would say "I think I need to go back to school..." Of course, there was some rolling of the eyes, but they did support me. Our family motto is, "onto the next adventure," so I have always gone where I feel that I need to go. It’s a feeling.

My second piece of advice came from one of my elderly clients many years ago. One night shift I had asked her, "What is the most important thing I can do for you?" She said, "Listen... we lived a life before our bodies became broken, our histories are filled with what you will need to know... just listen." This moment in time impacted my nursing career, and today as I teach young nursing students, I remind them to ask the question, "What’s the most important thing I can do for you today?" Our elderly clients have so much to teach us, especially in nursing.

Ignite:

How have you grown from an important mistake?

Carla:

We all make mistakes. We are humans working in complex dynamic systems called healthcare or education. I have learned to "listen" first and try not to come to any conclusions or assumptions. I look for the intent in conversations. I try to understand how history, habit, and tradition may have got us to a certain point. I have learned to ask more questions than make statements. Most of all, I recognize that many of us think and act in ways that we may have become accustomed to. Behaviors are hard to change. But I think back to my elderly client and recognize that whatever I do, whatever I say, is going to have an impact on someone, and I want that impact to either be a place where we will both grow from or where we can find common ground to accomplish our responsibilities.

Ignite:

When did you realize you were where you wanted to be and how did you feel?

Carla:

Each new benchmark along my career made me feel like I was moving in the right direction. I had questions, so I sought out the answers. However, when I accepted my first academic position as a Chair of a nursing program, it was then that I felt I was exactly where I was supposed to be. We all make the right decision at the right moment given what we know at that moment—there are no right or wrong turns because we continue to learn.

I love being a nurse and I love being an educator. I am right where I am supposed to be at this point in my career.

Ignite:

If a nursing student approached you and asked for your advice, and you had just a few moments to engage with them, what would be your best tip?

Carla:

When it comes to school: Just breathe and be kind to yourself. It is like learning a new language (and technically it is!), so be kind to yourself. When it comes to caring for clients: I tell them to listen to their clients and their families. Listen with intent and work in collaboration with them. I remind students there is no such thing as "textbook clients," so remember to ask each and every client what it is like living with their medical challenges. What is it like living with multiple sclerosis? Cancer? Listen with intent. This is where you are going to learn about how to care for your clients, so heed their advice. You will never forget what each and every client and their families share with you... because they are the ones who are going to teach you what nursing is all about.

Ignite:

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Carla:

Nursing is an amazing career and I hear the same echoed around the world, especially this year, the International Year of the Nurse, and who can forget, the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. What this pandemic is teaching all of us is about what it means to be human; that we are all in this together and what is truly important to each one of us.

I grieve for those who have lost their lives and the families who are left behind. It has made my commitment to nursing and education even stronger. What does the future hold? Who knows! But I know that nurses can handle whatever comes along.


Connect with Carla

Carla can be reached via Twitter @CarlaTilley2