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Bursary helps nurse keep longtime promise and give back to NH

Posted May 9th, 2024

We are Niagara Health is a series of stories that celebrates the incredible people working and volunteering in our organization and how they make a difference in the lives of patients and coworkers every day.

Registered Nurse Marty Robbins

Registered Nurse Marty Robbins is upskilling to become a nurse practitioner with help from the Niagara Health Bursary Program. 

In the liner notes of Registered Nurse Marty Robbins’ career, the first person he’d likely thank is his mother, Heather O’Neill.

After all, when Robbins was debating becoming a paramedic, she encouraged him to pursue nursing instead. It was only one more year of school at the time.

“With nursing, every door is open to you,” says Robbins, who works in Niagara Health’s Pain Clinic. “You want to travel, work on a cruise ship, be a nurse educator, work the night shift, the day shift, go down south – it’s whatever you want it to be.”

His mom didn’t stop there. Once Robbins became an RN, she encouraged him to become a nurse practitioner (NP). After all, it would require only a few more years of school.

That’s why Robbins would likely include the Niagara Health Bursary Program in those same liner notes. He’s closer to becoming an NP thanks to receiving a bursary last year from the program, which offers one-time funding toward tuition for eligible staff and physicians.

“The only way I can say thank you is to be a success and live up to everyone’s expectations. The confidence everyone has in me, I need to pay that back by being the best nurse practitioner I can be."

Applications for the 2024 bursary program are now open with Niagara Health contributing $30,000 toward educational grants worth up to $1,000 each this year.

“Even when I first got out of nursing school, my mom was like, ‘Do more,’” Robbins recalls. “I’ll get a better job out of it.”

But that wasn’t his only motivation. Robbins is a natural caregiver, driven to give the best care possible, no matter the situation. It goes back to his days learning first aid as a Boy Scout.

“I don’t want to say the stereotypical ‘I like helping people,’ but that’s part of it,” he says.

At 25, Robbins found himself using those skills to perform CPR on his father when the elder Robbins had a heart attack. At the time, Robbins was at a professional crossroads and needing direction. He already had a degree in commerce and marketing but wasn’t doing much with it.

After his father’s heart attack, he enrolled in Humber College’s paramedic program before switching to nursing at his mother’s behest.  

“Maybe there’s something about doing CPR on your dad and then going to nursing school,” Robbins says. “Maybe there’s some psychology to that.”

Becoming an NP made sense when Robbins worked with a nurse practitioner at Camp Wanakita in Haliburton one summer seven years ago. He saw that his co-worker could do assessments, prescribe medication, and spare campers a trip to hospital or another care provider, which Robbins couldn’t as an RN.

“I really wanted to become a nurse practitioner after that,” he says. “It was so I could be a camp nurse and not have to send a kid into the emergency department. If I was a nurse practitioner, it would really help the camp.”

Robbins began upgrading to a university nursing degree in 2020, a pre-requisite to becoming an NP. He’s been doing his studies part-time online at Athabasca University while continuing to work part-time at the Pain Clinic, and juggling all the responsibilities of being a dad to two teenagers, and a husband. He also still helps out at Camp Wanakita.

Getting a boost from the Niagara Health Bursary Program, which launched last year and awarded grants to support the professional development of 36 staff and physicians, “really took the pressure off.”

It was one of many shows of support Robbins has received from the organization on his journey. He’s been encouraged by his manager, other NPs, and Dr. Kim Scher at the Fort Erie Site Palliative Care Clinic, where Robbins did his first NP clinical placement.

He also credits his wife, Regan Rawson, Cardiac Program Educator at Niagara Health who is working toward her master’s degree in nursing, for being his “champion, cheerleader, taskmaster and pillar of support” and even his essay editor throughout his studies.

“I got immediate support and it’s been a positive, wonderful success. To have Dr. Scher take me on as a student … has been so positive. Niagara Health has moved mountains to get me here,” Robbins says. “Not one person has put up a roadblock or stymied me in any way. I’m extremely grateful.”

The gratitude he feels toward Niagara Health – for the bursary, the encouragement and the opportunities – won’t wane when he graduates as an NP next year. Neither will his appreciation for the person who first encouraged him to go for it all along.

“The only way I can say thank you is to be a success and live up to everyone’s expectations. The confidence everyone has in me, I need to pay that back by being the best nurse practitioner I can be,” Robbins says. 

“And in the back of my mind, I’ve got to live up to the promise I made to my mom. I told my mom I was going to do it. Now I’ve got to finish it.”

Niagara Health System