MACLEAN’S HONOUR ROLL 2000

Brena Moss

‘You can make such a difference in someone's life’

Brian Bergman December 18 2000
MACLEAN’S HONOUR ROLL 2000

Brena Moss

‘You can make such a difference in someone's life’

Brian Bergman December 18 2000

Brena Moss

‘You can make such a difference in someone's life’

Last year, just before Christmas, a four-seater aircraft crashed near Bassano, Alta., 150 km east of Calgary, killing one person and critically injuring three others. Berna Moss, nursing supervisor at the Bassano Health Centre, was on the highway returning from nearby Brooks when she received the call on her cellphone. Within 10 minutes, Moss was on the job, calmly overseeing the nursing trauma team that successfully stabilized the three crash survivors and readied them for transport to Calgary. As is often the case in rural settings, the doctors and nurses knew the patients they were treating—but in an emergency there is no room for sentiment. “You have to handle the situation and then deal with the emotional issues when the dust settles,” says Moss. “Its very tough.” Moss, 60, knows all about working at close quarters with friends, family and neighbours. She spent most of her childhood in Bassano, a farming and ranching community of 1,400. It is also where she met and later married her high-school sweetheart, Edwin Moss. After living in Germany, Ontario, Edmonton, Saskatoon, the United States and Calgary, the couple returned to Bassano in 1980. Edwin set up a one-man veterinary practice, while Berna, who had worked for two decades mainly as an operating-room nurse, assisted her husband for four years before taking the head-nurse position at the Bassano General Hospital. A year later, she became director of nursing. In that capacity, she has mentored younger nurses, pioneered a palliative-care program and spearheaded the creation of the Bassano Health Centre, widely regarded as a model for rural health-care delivery.

Moss’s efforts resulted in a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Alberta Association of Registered Nurses in May. “Berna displays a love of nursing that motivates us all,” says Bonnie Kraus, 26, a staff nurse at the health centre. “There is no better gift to be given.”

Moss setded on her profession—one that surveys show Canadians hold in very high esteem—at the age of 12, when an operating-room nurse and family friend from Victoria paid a visit. “She was so organized and in control of her life,” says Moss, smiling at the memory. “I decided right then I wanted to be a nurse.” Moss received her nursing diploma from the Calgary General Hospital in 1961, a time when nurses still wore starched white uniforms and caps—an attire that matched the emotional distance they kept from patients. “We used to be very stiff,” says Moss. “Now, I see nurses hugging patients and family members, crying with them. I think it’s great, because we are human.”

For Moss, rural nursing holds a special appeal, both for the challenges of the job and the uncomplicated lifestyle. A mother of two grown sons and grandmother of six, she lives with her husband on an 85-acre parcel of land, a seven-minute drive from work. When they aren’t riding their horses, the couple like to ski, travel—or just enjoy small-town life. “It’s nice to walk down the street or into the post office and know everyone,” she says. And while retirement looms, Moss appears in no hurry to give up her life’s work. “In this profession, you can make such a difference in someone’s life,” she says. “I get a very good feeling from that.”

Brian Bergman