Matt Douma is a shining example of an outstanding UFV alumnus now, but back in the mid-2000s he wasn’t your typical nursing student.
Douma, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2006, is this year’s recipient of the UFV Distinguished Alumni award.
During his student days he chafed against convention and questioned the rules. He had passions outside of the nursing degree program, including rowing, research, and volunteer work.
He was at risk of dropping out, was living in his car, and almost gave up on his dream of becoming a nurse. It was the support of his UFV rowing coach, Liz Chisholm, and of his research mentor, Dr. Adrienne Chan, that kept him going.
Chisholm helped Matt focus his energy and pursue athletic excellence. And Chan, then a professor of social work and human services, introduced him to university-level research opportunities.
“Two people were key to my academic and personal success: Liz Chisholm and Adrienne Chan,” Matt asserts. “They bolstered my wellness and helped me transition from a rebellious youth to a disciplined young adult. Adrienne was the first person to make me feel smart. She taught me that if I put in the time and effort into a project, I could be successful. Thanks to her, I am as much a research scientist as I am a registered nurse now.”
Douma persevered in his studies, and 16 years later has been recognized regionally and nationally for his work with others on trauma and life-saving practices related to aortic compression and hemorrhaging, practices he first learned about while doing UFV-sponsored research as a student in Vietnam.
His career since graduating has been a mix of hands-on bedside nursing, clinical nursing teaching, academic research, and training nurses and other health-care professionals in emergency life-saving skills.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, he had been focused increasingly on teaching, but the urgent need for critical care nurses drew him back to the bedside providing direct care to COVID-19 patients.
“Returning to the bedside as a critical care nurse was challenging and rewarding,” he recalls. “It reinforced my determination to change and improve the way that care occurs.”
It was particularly frustrating for Douma, his colleagues, and nurses throughout the world to have to keep patients isolated from their families during the pandemic, to watch them suffer and sometimes die without family present.
Based on this experience, Douma is an advocate for increased transparency for families of patients through methods such as continuous streaming.
“It may be passive communication, but it at least lets families see the patient.”
He was also part of an international team developing and writing curriculum providing evidence-based critical care knowledge for nurses involved in COVID-19 care and has led an international collaborative team aimed at training people to teach resuscitation methods to use when conventional methods fail with COVID-19 patients.
Douma left bedside nursing again recently to focus on his PhD studies through the University College of Dublin, having earlier earned a master’s degree at the University of Toronto.
Now an adjunct professor of critical care nursing at the University of Alberta, where he continues to teach and mentor new health care researchers, he plans to be a fulltime tenure-track faculty member when he completes his PhD.
Douma has made significant contributions to emergency health, according to his mentor Adrienne Chan, who nominated him for the Distinguished Alumni award.
“Matt has an empathetic understanding of a broad set of issues. He sees problems differently and seeks to shift paradigms of thinking about nursing and about health. His strong commitment to clinical education and emergency care, and a lifelong commitment to vulnerable and marginalized populations makes him a respectful and inclusive practitioner.“
Douma continues to be driven by curiosity and a relentless desire to improved understanding of complex medical issues and problems.
“Asking difficult questions and formulating answers is essential to both the scientific method and the nursing process,” he says. “It’s also a key part of how we can improve the functioning of the health care system.”
He feels honoured to receive the Distinguished Alumni award for 2022, and despite his sometimes-precarious status during his student days, looks back on his UFV time with fondness.
“I am so proud of the university I came from,” he notes. “I especially came to appreciate UFV’s value after experiencing the massive scale at the University of Toronto. I could characterize my undergraduate experience as accessible and practical, with great opportunities for research and one-on-one mentoring from my rowing coach Liz and my research mentor Adrienne Chan.”
When asked what advice he would have for the UFV community, his wish was a simple one: “Get first aid training. Everyone can learn to save a life.”