Profile of a Travelling Nurse: Inuvik

Whether it was dog sledding, hiking, driving the Dempster Highway to Tuk, attending Inuvik’s first Pride parade in -30 degree weather, or trying to resist buying all of the amazing handsewn and beaded crafts made by talented Inuvialuit locals, there were plenty of adventures to be had!

Last year, I decided to try out a new travel nursing location once again, after another successful Yukon contract (#4!). I had heard of Inuvik, NT from a few friends who had visited, and from another friend who had recently started a job share there. She had really been enjoying her contracts so far and that was all I needed to hear before I started pursuing a contract at Inuvik Regional Hospital (IRH) as well. This was the first contract I signed without a travel nursing agency, so it required a little more leg work, as I needed to interview for the position and complete all the organization and paperwork myself. But after two days on planes, and one overnight stay in a swanky Edmonton hotel, I landed in Inuvik for the first time last April.

Sandra at the Arctic Ocean sign in Tuk

The town of Inuvik clocks in at a population of just over 3000, and is the largest community in the Beaufort Delta, which is the northernmost region of NWT. It used to be the end of the famous Dempster Highway; a mostly dirt road that travels north, starting near Dawson City, YK. In 2017, the highway was extended from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk, a hamlet on the Arctic Ocean, previously accessible only by ice road in the winter and by plane in the summer. (You may have heard this town referenced in Dean Brody’s song “Canadian Girls”!)

Inuvik welcome sign, still says “end of the Dempster” referencing the old Dempster Highway

IRH is the smallest hospital I have worked at so far, with only 12 inpatient beds and 2 labour and delivery rooms. The majority of the wonderful nursing staff I worked with were originally from Alberta, Ontario, or the Maritime provinces, drawn to the North by the enticing pay cheques, or through the work of a spouse. Many have stayed to raise their families in this small northern community, and once you visit, it is easy to see why.

the “Igloo Church” – most photographed building in Inuvik

Over the course of my two short contracts there, I experienced many new learning opportunities. When I work on the maternity floor at KGH, labour and delivery is separate, so I haven’t worked closely with L&D nurses since I was a student. It was very exciting to be able to watch a few deliveries while I was there. I definitely tear up a little every time… it is so amazing and special to witness such an intimate moment in a family’s life!

Because of the permafrost, all the plumbing can’t be buried underground, so Inuvik has this tube system above ground, called Utilidor.


IRH is one of three hospitals in the whole territory, which means that many of our patients were from the smaller surrounding communities. It was an added nursing responsibility to consider travel and accommodation of our patients and their family accompaniment; which included lots of paperwork and arrangements that I never quite got the hang of… thank you to all my Inuvik coworkers for always taking the time to answer my many questions!

These are called Pingos, big hills of ice that stay all year long. This is the second largest Pingo in the world.

I was asked to extend my second contract by an extra couple of days to speak about Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence nursing at a staff training day. I am very passionate about sexual assault nursing, so I was thrilled and honoured for this opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and prepare a presentation that would be helpful for the Inuvik hospital staff when caring for these patients. Ontario has a network of treatment centres with specialized teams of nurses who are prepared to care for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, but in small, rural hospitals, the nurses in ER are usually responsible for this care. A full assessment and evidence collection can take several hours of one-to-one nursing, and it takes even longer if you are not familiar with the process. As I was preparing for my presentation, I found it very interesting to go through the RCMP sexual assault kit that is used in NWT, and compare it to the Ontario kit that was I familiar with. This presentation also gave me a project to work on near the end of my fall contract, as the days became shorter and the weather grew colder.

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There were also lots of activities to do outside of work with new friends. Whether it was dog sledding, hiking, driving the Dempster Highway to Tuk, attending Inuvik’s first Pride parade in -30 degree weather, or trying to resist buying all of the amazing handsewn and beaded crafts made by talented Inuvialuit locals, there were plenty of adventures to be had! My two contracts in Inuvik were absolutely amazing, and I hope to go back soon for a Dempster Highway road trip to experience 24 hours of daylight, or the famous Inuvik Sunrise Festival held every January, that celebrates the return of the sun after 30 days of darkness!

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Sandra Milliken graduated from Queen’s University with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2014.  She has worked as a travel nurse in northern Canada for 3 years.  Between her contracts, she resides in Kingston, ON, where she works as a resource pool nurse on pediatrics, NICU, and maternity units, and as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner on the Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence team at Kingston General Hospital.

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