After discovering her passion for helping people as a volunteer at Canmore’s local hospital, Iola Agir Koether went into nursing. She now works as a Canadian travel nurse, experiencing the happiness and hardships of the job, as well as facing the effects of COVID-19 first-hand. 

Koether’s desire to help and heal was fueled by wanting to take care of her family members. 

Around the age of 15 she began volunteering at the Canmore General Hospital in its long-term care facility. That work started off as restocking linens and toiletries for seniors at the facility, but later progressed to feeding and helping with recreational therapy for the residents.

“I volunteered to organize little games and movie nights and garden parties for the residents to help with their morale and keep them busy while they are in a healthcare facility and away from their family as often as they are,” Koether says. 

During this time, she was promoted to a nursing attendant while training to become a nurse at Red Deer College. 

After completing her degree and working in a nine-to-five clinic as a registered nurse for about five years, Koether was introduced to travel nursing. 

Iola Agir Koether works as a travel nurse across Canada as well as in her local hospital in Canmore, Alberta. Photo courtesy of Iola Agir Koether 

A need for change and a desire to practice her hands-on skills led her to a recruiter from Select Medical Connections who was hiring travel nurses to help in hospitals across Canada that have staff shortages. 

After going through the process to become a registered travel nurse, Koether fulfilled her first contract in March 2019, helping to address understaffing in Dawson Creek.

Since then she has maintained a job at her home hospital in Canmore, while also filling contracts travelling across Canada for understaffing at various hospitals. 

Her friend and co-worker in Canmore, Sarah Campanaro, says that Koether is always prepared to take care of everyone, including her fellow staff. 

Campanaro remembers one particularly hard shift where she didn’t have time to take a break, but Koether was there to help out. 

“During her break she went to Tim Horton’s and got everybody coffee and bagels so we could all have something to eat,” Campanaro says.

But Koether says she’s been equally supported by her friends and family. 

“Everybody’s been super supportive,” Koether says, “I’ve met some really great nurses and gained a lot of experience doing this type of work because there are skills that you don’t particularly do in one province but you end up learning and doing every day in another province.” 

Among Koether’s supporters is her husband, Max. 

“I think the main way I can support her is by encouraging her to take advantage of any of these opportunities even with it being tough in the short term,” Max says. 

That support has been especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Iola Agir Koether’s husband, Max, is a major support when it comes to her work as a travel nurse. Photo courtesy of Iola Agir Koether

Koether says the need for travel nurses is increasing. She herself recently went to British Columbia to fulfill a contract. 

“I have been seeing a lot of recruitment strategies happening now that there is a lot more cases and also the need for more nursing in the sense that nurses are also getting sick or presenting with symptoms which forces them to stop working.” 

While she hasn’t had personal contact with the virus yet, she is still nervous while going into work every day, even at her home hospital in Canmore.

“I think it is just a matter of keeping myself safe and healthy so that I can make good choices and help where I need to when I go,” Koether says. 

She thinks being aware of the virus is beneficial but it’s important to take a step back and focus on your own mental as well as physical health and safety. 

“Whether it is dancing in your kitchen or doing a workout, moving is really good. And stay connected. Find support where you can and check in on people and reach out where you can.”