Thanks to an anonymous $3 million pledge, a new scholarship has been created, benefiting Island Health staff committed to advancing their careers in healthcare. In its inaugural year, 59 employees across Island Health have been shortlisted for the Heather Simpson Scholarship Fund, in which 50 per cent of their annual tuition will be covered.

“This pledge sends the powerful message that our care teams are the pillars of our healthcare system—and that there is a community of people that want to lift them up,” says Avery Brohman, Chief Executive Officer of the Victoria Hospitals Foundation. “In its essence, the scholarship lessens financial barriers for caregivers who wish to specialize, broaden, or hone in on their skills, for the ultimate betterment of the community. We are deeply grateful to the donors for this pledge that is far-reaching and of much impact, especially in the times we are in.”

The Heather Simpson Scholarship came about as a way for those who loved her to express their heartfelt gratitude to healthcare staff―specifically, every hospital staff member who provided extraordinary care to Heather during her 14-month stay at Royal Jubilee Hospital. To the entire team behind her care—nurses, doctors, pharmacists, dietitians, physiotherapists, care aides, housekeeping staff, and everyone else behind the scenes, the donors wish to express the following message: “Thank you, you made life better for Heather.”

Recognizing a dedication to healthcare and a commitment to helping others is at the core of the Heather Simpson Scholarship Fund. From the $3 million pledge, $250,000 will also be used to support palliative care education and training for staff throughout Royal Jubilee and Victoria General Hospitals.

“We are grateful for donor support that honours the employees who want to grow their scope of care,” says Marko Peljhan, Island Health Vice President, Clinical Services Central and South Island and Provincial Programs. “And it is a reflection on the caregivers themselves, in applying for this scholarship, of their commitment to improving the health of the people in their communities up and down Vancouver Island.”

Through the Heather Simpson Scholarship Fund, several Licensed Practical Nurses will pursue their education to become Registered Nurses; a Registered Nurse will work toward their Masters of Nursing and becoming a Nurse Practitioner; and, a Medical Imaging Technologist will begin their journey toward becoming a doctor.

Some of the recipients of the Heather Simpson Scholarship gathered for a celebration at Royal Jubilee Hospital Thursday, where several shared the significance of this pledge:

“Putting life on hold for school is hard as an adult; however I won’t have to worry about sacrificing my school work in order to make ends meet,” says Mandie Vossler, a Licensed Practical Nurse in Comox, who has started North Island College’s LPN Access to Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree. “Words can’t express how grateful I am to have been chosen to receive this award. I feel humbled and honored.”

“Since high school, I wanted to work in nursing but I had kids at a young age. Many times I told myself I’d go back to school when they were a bit older, but it never aligned. My youngest finished high school in June and now is the time to finish my schooling,” says Laila Vincent, a Health Care Aide in Nanaimo, who will be attending Discovery Community College in February to become a Licensed Practical Nurse. “Opportunities like this don’t come every day and I feel honored that I am being recognized by the donors and encouraged in such a way to continue to follow my dreams in my career.”

“The generous recognition of the donors is humbling, and in turn enables me to reciprocate support to the interwoven parts of and people in our system,” says Kate Leahy, a Registered Nurse in Victoria who is enrolled in the University of Victoria’s Masters of Nurse Practitioner program.

“Not having to choose between continuing my studies and taking care of my family has been such a gift,” says Lindsay Deeble, an X-ray technologist in Ladysmith and Chemainus, who is on the path toward becoming a doctor, pursuing a Bachelor of Health Science Degree through Thompson Rivers University.

Recipients of the Heather Simpson Scholarship will begin their courses before December 31, 2024. A preference was given to Island Health employees with at least five years of service. The next round of applications for the Heather Simpson Scholarship Fund will be open to eligible employees in May 2024.

The donors hope their pledge will inspire others to give back to the care teams that provide so much to the community, and acknowledge that gifts of any denomination can make an impact.

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