If you ask Ines Hartmann of Haines Junction, she will tell you what is in a piece of paper…
She will matter-of-factly tell you a story of three Ps — patience, perseverance, positive thinking.
And family love.
Over the past four years, this industrious woman has fought through major obstacles to finally attain her Canadian nursing re-certification.
She also recently completed her required 225 hours experience to gain Registered Nurse status. “Another piece of paper,” she says and laughs.
In 1994, Hartmann worked as a fully qualified psychiatric nurse in Switzerland (and had worked at that for several years). That summer, she and her husband, Beat, ventured to Canada to drive the entire Alaska Highway.
“Our pickup broke down in Haines Junction,” says Hartmann. “It took so long to get it fixed that by the time we did, it was time to fly home.
“We were in Haines Junction for three weeks. We never have finished driving the highway.” She laughs her infectious laugh and says, “But we’re going next week, 14 years later.”
While the couple was stranded in the Junction, they looked around and ended up buying Billy Burger, a fast-food outlet.
As Hartmann tells this part of her story, one can detect playfulness reflected in her eyes, her voice and at the corners of her mouth.
“We fell in love with Haines Junction; my hobby was cooking, so we said, ‘Why not?’
“But we did go home and think it over seriously first,” she adds.
The Hartmanns immigrated to the village in 1995.
They transformed Billy Burger into a new building, and for 10 years, operated it as Frosty Freeze, a busy summer eatery and bed-and-breakfast.
Since 1995, Hartmann has managed their fast-food business, had two children, worked at other jobs and ambulance service, helped construct their new house, and fought off breast cancer — all at the same time.
And, oh yes: She had to learn English, too.
On top of all that, for the past two years (while she was ill and working), she studied nursing.
Hartmann says, “I was content with Frosty Freeze for about 10 years, but working in home care and ambulance service led me to look into re-certification for nursing.
Her eyes light up and she smiles. “I got the feeling that, OK, this is my world again.”
She adds, “I knew I would have to do the nursing exam, but didn’t know I’d have to do the refresher course.”
Hartmann explains that at first there were no distance education programs for nursing re-certification.
“And no way could I leave for two years,” she adds.
When she later found a distance nursing re-certification program (the paper and books kind), she spent one and a half years processing her Swiss papers just to qualify her for acceptance into the program.
“All my schooling, certificates, and employment from Switzerland had to be traced and translated. That took a long time,” she says.
“And then I had to go to Calgary to write an English-as-a Second-Language exam before I could even apply for the nursing refresher program.”
Hartmann started her refresher course in February 2006. Every two-three weeks she wrote an exam until June 2007 (22 exams in all.)
She also wrote the Canadian Registered Nursing exam in October 2007.
In July 2006, Hartmann had surgery for breast cancer, then chemotherapy and radiation.
She continued to study even through surgery complications, and did some hours of home-care work and helped at Frosty Freeze. (They sold that business in February 2007.)
One can sense Hartman’s passion and strength as she talks.
She says, “I think doing this course was probably something that kept me on top of all this hard time. I really wanted to do this. I was just not giving up.
“It was very hard,” she adds matter-of-factly.
So what kind of resilience, sense of humour, and fortitude must a woman have to combat all this and come out seemingly unscathed and vital?
Hartmann credits her family and the community.
“Beat, my husband, was very, very supportive through everything, often taking over all my chores and keeping the girls quiet so I could study,” she says.
“It was sometimes hard for the girls (Wendy and Lucy), but they are quite independent. My working in Whitehorse is a little harder on them.”
“I think Beat’s and my relationship is exceptional because I’m sure I’m not easy, but for some reason the two of us work wonderfully together — in any situation,” she adds.
“It was absolutely awesome. I couldn’t have done it without him.
“And, the community here — I was amazed at how much support I got. People offered to help, and I always had someone watching the kids when Beat couldn’t.”
What was the most difficult of all the obstacles?
“To start the process, all that paperwork process,” Hartmann says. “I almost gave up. I would tell people to do that as soon as they come into a new country.
“Another thing that I really hated was because I like to be always in control of myself, and now I couldn’t be — for example when I was under anesthetic for my two surgeries, someone else was in control.
“I really hated that.”
What would Hartmann do differently if she could?
“I would start sooner and maybe take some of the courses Outside through regular classes.”
And what was the best part of the whole process?
She says, “Getting to know people in my profession again, and just knowing and getting the feeling that, yes, this is where I belong.
“That’s what I always wanted and I feel back home.”
Now after several months on casual hire at the Whitehorse General Hospital, Hartmann has accepted a position as a mental-health nurse — three, 12-hour shifts per week.
Hartmann and her family plan to move into their new house this summer.
“My goal then is to continue air-brush painting like I did in Switzerland,” she says.
Then she laughs and adds, “And finally we can finish driving the Alaska Highway.”
(The Hartmanns did finish driving the highway — to Fairbanks for Easter.)
Elaine Hurlburt is a writer living in Haines Junction.