Celebrating Island Health’s Allied Health Professionals

Allied Health Professions Day is celebrated annually on October 14th. It is an international event that originated in England three years ago to celebrate, appreciate and recognize the extraordinary work of the allied health workforce and showcase the impact they make to the delivery of high quality care.

From dietitians and occupational therapists to cardiovascular technologists and audiologists, the allied health workforce plays a crucial role in the delivery of health services in the community, in hospitals and in clinics. Within Island Health there are 2,952 allied health employees spanning across 37 disciplines who journey with our patients at every stage of life. They are a critical group of health professionals who apply their expertise to prevent, diagnose, rehabilitate and treat a range of health conditions and collaborate with other members of the health care team to provide the best patient outcomes.

We are proud to share the following profiles that illustrate just some of the many contributions being made by Island Health’s Allied Health team. We extend a heartfelt "thank you" to everyone who works under the Allied Health umbrella. The work you do is nothing short of indispensable, especially during these challenging times.

Janice Ziegenhagel, Anatomic Pathology
During high school Janice met with a career counselor who was providing all students with career tests. She knew that she wanted to enter the medical field but wasn’t sure which direction to take.  Medical Laboratory technologist was at the top of the list, so she took a two-year Med Lab technology program to learn about microbiology, transfusion medicine, chemistry/hematology analysis and anatomic pathology. She completed her education in Edmonton, and gained work experience at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, at the old St. Joseph’s in Comox, and at Surrey Memorial before joining Island Health five years ago at the Royal Jubilee.

“Working in Anatomic Pathology is very rewarding, says Janice. “You need to be curious, extremely organized, and enjoy science. You are helping to diagnose a problem, but you are also part of the treatment in a patient’s journey, which makes this career very rewarding.” 

Today, Janice works as a Technical Coordinator of Anatomic Pathology. This involves coordinating four sites on Vancouver Island. She writes procedures that are used within the pathology department, assists with purchasing, installing and optimizing new instruments. Generally, makes sure that the anatomic pathology team has what they need to do their work.

Anatomical pathology is a medical specialty that diagnosis’s/treats diseases based on the cellular examination of organs and tissues. Anatomical pathology is one of two branches of pathology; the other being clinical pathology, the diagnosis/treatment of disease through the laboratory analysis of bodily fluids or tissues. The specimens that the Anatomic Pathology team analyzes are often removed in an operating room or doctor’s office and the Pathologists examine the cells under a microscope to make a diagnosis.

Dave Lewis, Perfusionist
Dave stumbled upon his profession while performing electrical inspections as an engineer. The Perfusion educator at the time invited him to watch a few open-heart procedures, as she thought that Dave might be a good fit for the profession. Of course he said yes, as he loves to learn, and he felt that his narrow electrophysiology background and flow of electrons would cross over to the flow of blood! Although it didn’t, he was hooked and embarked on a new career.

Perfusion refers to the delivery of oxygen to the tissue and organs of the body via the blood stream. Perfusionists are responsible for operating the equipment necessary to do this when the patient can’t do it for themselves. The majority of a Perfusionist’s work is completed in the operating room when a patient’s heart and lungs are stopped during surgical procedures, such as open-heart surgery, and equipment is used to circulate, oxygenate and recycle the patient’s blood. Perfusionists are also responsible for moving patients by road, fixed wing or helicopter while they are supported by this equipment.

Dave is also an educator and coordinates the clinical instruction, education, training and supervision of Perfusion students, as well as coordinating continuous education related to Perfusion Practice and techniques for Island Health’s healthcare professionals in acute departments. 

“Our number one priority is to be the patient’s advocate,”= says Dave. There’s always a balance of providing life support and providing what the surgical table requires. The operating room looks extremely complex, with a large team, and at the end of the day we are all proud of being a small part in a patient’s path of recovery. That what we strive for daily.” 

Michael Politano-Bowles, Spiritual Health Practitioner
After completing an undergraduate degree in religious studies and psychology Michael still had a desire to learn so he pursued and received a Master’s degree in Theology.  Michael knew he didn’t want to work in a church or academic setting and being drawn to social justice work, he spent the first part of his career working in addiction recovery. Michael had no idea that he would eventually end up working in a hospital setting, However, after a rigorous year long clinical psycho-spiritual education residency in an acute care context, he immediately felt at home working in an environment where emotional distress is prominent, where every patient’s room brings unique circumstances and where he felt like he is part of an over-arching care team.

Spiritual Health Practitioners are trained to support the spiritual health of patients, families and employees from diverse beliefs and cultural backgrounds. Spiritual health is a trauma informed and culturally safe response to spiritual, psychological and existential distress. Respecting the various ways people look at spiritual health, which may or may not include religion, Michael steps into a room and meets people wherever they are at emotionally and spiritually. Michael lends his skills as a compassionate listener, a facilitator of meditation and prayer and a companion for those needing grief support to help keep patients, families and staff connected.

“People want to be heard and understood,” says Michael. “This is what matters the most. When a person’s spiritual and emotional needs are met we honour our mandate to provide holistic healing or whole person care. By re-valuing a person’s spiritual health we are re-interpreting the meaning of the bio-medical word ‘medicine.” 

For Spiritual Health Practitioners family and community are medicine, cultural practices are medicine, prayer and mindfulness meditation are medicine, reconnecting with meaning and purpose is medicine. The role of Spiritual Health is to place a priority on these pieces which are vital to a person’s health, quality of life and dignity which decreases stress and contributes to the healing process. Spiritual Health Practitioners not only come alongside patients in distress, we support them to trust their innate wholeness and capacity to heal.” 

Hans Crijenkovic, Registered Respiratory Therapist
After graduating from university Hans was looking to further his education in the fields he enjoyed - science and emergency care - so he registered for the Respiratory Therapy program at Thompson Rivers University. When Hans toured the hospital at the beginning of his program he was confronted with the realities of working in critical care, but found the amazing teamwork, compassion and skill that the staff and physicians bring to the bedside every day was what he wanted to be a part of. For Hans, working with patients provides a direct, visceral reward for your efforts that is hard to replicate in other careers.

“I’m so glad that I made the decision to enter into this occupation,” says Hans. “Although I had some initial fears about what it might be like, working as a Respiratory Therapist has been extremely gratifying becoming a member of a care team which positively effects every life we touch as we help people overcome their illnesses and go on to lead healthy lives.” 

Respiratory therapists help people with breathing problems, from premature babies with undeveloped lungs in the labour and delivery department, to the trauma bay in ER when a car accident comes in, to the ICU with the adult patients on ventilators. Some Respiratory therapists also work in diagnostic testing, education for patients with COPD, asthma or cystic fibrosis, smoking cessation and sleep related disorders. The Covid pandemic has seen an unprecedented demand for all healthcare workers, including the RRTs who are in the thick of the effort to save people fighting the disease.

Fiona Hughes, Anesthesia Assistant
For Fiona Hughes, providing care for the patients she sees everyday is why she wanted to become an Anesthesia Assistant, but the other thing she loves about her job is working with an amazing interdisciplinary team in the operating room who are like her second family. 

“Becoming an Anesthesia Assistant is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” says Fiona. “No two days are the same and I still love the adrenalin rush of a crazy case in the middle of the night.” 

Anesthesia Assistants work collaboratively with a team of operating room staff to provide comprehensive care to patients in and out of the operating room.  They work with a variety of anesthetic equipment, including anesthetic machines, bronchoscopes, medication pumps, rapid volume infusers, nerve stimulators, and cell savers (used for cell salvaging). They work with neonates who are just a few hours old all the way up to 100 year olds. They work with babies who weigh 500 grams to adults weighing in at over 500 lbs. They work with patients who are visiting the hospital for minor procedures and just in the OR for a few minutes to patients having complex procedures who are in the OR for 16hrs. Some patients are having elective surgeries while others are going through emergency life saving surgeries. 
As we look ahead to the future of healthcare, the value of allied health is evident. Thank you to all of Island Health’s Allied Health Professionals for your service!