Being an educator is in Tanya Heuver’s blood – the assistant professor in MacEwan’s Faculty of Nursing was raised by two teachers.
“They taught at the elementary, junior and high school levels, so a different context from what I do,” she says. “But they’ve been such a big influence. Their passion for teaching and lifelong curiosity has stuck with me.”
With such a deeply ingrained love of teaching and learning, it’s no wonder that Heuver recently received one of MacEwan University’s 2020 Distinguished Teaching Awards. In fact, she might have been the only one surprised by the recognition. “I wasn’t expecting it! My role is as an educator – that’s my job, and I wasn’t expecting to be recognized for it,” she says. “I’m so honoured and humbled, especially because there are so many amazing educators here at MacEwan.”
We talked to Heuver about the inextricable link between nursing and education, the importance of curiosity and more.
MacEwan University’s Distinguished Teaching Awards recognize outstanding faculty members who have shown extraordinary commitment to teaching and have inspired their students and colleagues. Watch for the 2020 award winners' profiles throughout July and August: Tanya Heuver (assistant professor, nursing practice), Dr. Samuel Mugo (associate professor, physical sciences), Neeraj Prakash (sessional faculty member, English) and Dr. Andrea Wagner (assistant professor, political science).
Q: What inspired you to become a nurse?
Both of my parents are teachers, and from a very young age I thought that I would be either a nurse or a teacher. I was very much a caregiver – I did a lot of babysitting, and when I played with my siblings I always wanted to be a nurse or a teacher and they would be patients or my students. I just had this innate calling for nursing and teaching.
Q. Are you surprised by the fact that you already knew your path at such a young age?
Yes. I really never wavered at all, except between the two – nursing and teaching. But my whole life, I always knew it would be one or the other.
Q: When you decided to pursue nursing, did you envision that you would get to teach as well?
I didn’t think I would be teaching at the university level. But when I started working as a nurse, my clinical practice was in pediatric nursing. I fell in love with working with kids and their families, and teaching is a huge part of that. Teaching is a huge part of a nurse’s role in any setting. We want to partner with our patients and their families to help them develop a good understanding of what they're experiencing and how they can best support their health and wellness.
Q. Are there any similarities between educating patients and educating students?
The biggest similarity is that I look at both of them as partners. Whether I'm partnering with a patient and their family or with a student, we’re working collaboratively to help them achieve their goals.
The other similarity is that in both cases, no questions are off limits. I always encourage my students and patients that if they have a question, please ask, even if it has nothing to do with what we're talking about right then. Encouraging curiosity gets people engaged in the learning process.
Q: What was your path to becoming a professor?
After working as a registered nurse for a number of years I went back and did my master's degree and became a nurse practitioner. I was still working in the hospital setting but was even more engaged with kids and families, and was also supporting the educational needs of the nurses I worked with as well. That really kindled my passion for teaching. Then an opportunity presented itself to teach a lab course at MacEwan – I thought it sounded really interesting so I took it. And it just instantly felt like home. I loved being with the students, seeing how excited they are to learn and witnessing those light-bulb moments. When I started teaching at MacEwan, it really felt like I was helping students put all the pieces together.
Q: What do you love most about teaching?
Just being with the students. Whether it's in the classroom or the lab, just listening to their questions and being with them totally invigorates me.
One of my favourite parts of the year is always convocation. Just celebrating students’ successes with them and seeing the pride in their families’ eyes – it’s such a highlight.
Q: Nurses are constantly learning as the health-care system grows and changes. Does being in that learner role help you relate to your students?
Absolutely. Every single term we need to update and revise a lot of what we're teaching because things are constantly changing in the health-care environment. I find that by doing that, I'm constantly being curious and seeking answers. I've had many students make comments about how that's influenced their passion for learning. As educators, we're constantly bringing new things forward and having conversations with students.
We acknowledge that the land on which we gather in Treaty Six Territory is the traditional gathering place for many Indigenous people. We honour and respect the history, languages, ceremonies and culture of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit who call this territory home.