Andrew Choate impressed with nurses’ wants offer same to others

Growing up in Calgary, Andrew Choate always knew he would attend the University of Alberta one day. After all, his grandparents and parents were U of A grads. What was harder to decide was his field of study. After starting in arts, Choate switched to business in his second year.

Andrew Choate impressed with nurses’ wants offer same to others

Then a life-changing event altered the course of his university studies—and led him to his calling.

He wasn’t feeling well after a party one evening, so he headed to the communal washroom in his student residence. Soon after, another student found him passed out on the floor. At first, they thought Choate had had too much to drink, but they quickly realized he was having a cardiac arrest. A residence adviser used the newly installed defibrillator to keep Choate alive until the ambulance arrived.

“Those students saved my life,” Choate said. 

He woke up in a bed at the U of A Hospital, surrounded by family, unable to remember anything that had happened. He had been in a coma for two days, while his family and medical team wondered what he would be like when he awoke. His brain had been deprived of oxygen for an unknown amount of time and the doctors estimated his heart was stopped for as long as 25 minutes. They determined his cardiac arrest had been caused by an undiagnosed congenital heart condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.

Choate’s time in hospital opened his eyes to nursing as a possible career path, he said.

“One nurse I remember took the time to really explain things to me, because I didn’t have any health-care knowledge at all,” he said. “Another nurse told my parents to have hope when I was in a coma—even if you aren’t religious, to pray and have that hope—which gave them the reassurance they needed.”

Helping others when they need it

Choate recovered his mental capacity more quickly than anyone expected. Following corrective surgery for his heart condition (he is now completely recovered), he got back to classes, and after a semester back studying business, he made the switch to the Faculty of Nursing.

While he found the nursing courses more challenging, Choate knew he’d made the right choice from the start. “You get to interact a lot with people, which I love, and help others when they need it, and it’s also very scientific and rigorous,” he said.

“It’s relating to people, being an advocate, problem-solving and communicating with patients and their families and other health-care professionals,” he said. “Nurses do all of that.”

If one day I can help a person or a family in the way that my family was helped by a nurse, I will have done my job.

Andrew Choate


(Photo: Amii)

Building resilience through COVID-19

COVID-19 made the clinical training for this year’s BScN graduating class more stressful but also more valuable, he said.

“Never before have nurses been more needed, relied upon and valued,” he said. “Making the transition into practice during a global pandemic will set us up for success.”

Some of what they dealt with during the pandemic was heartbreaking, but Choate said it built resilience.

“There were no family members around for some patients going through tough moments, so having a nurse there by their side to give that human connection was so important,” he said. “It was such a privilege to be in that position.”

Choate said his U of A training, with a focus on self-care and wellness, helped him learn how to handle the emotional toll the job can take.

“Doing work where you are putting others first doesn’t mean putting them above yourself,” he said. “You still have to address your own needs and experiences in order to be there for other people.”

Keeping the focus on empathy

One clinical instructor who stands out as a role model for Choate was Hanni Mohamed, who supervised his practicum in a long-term care facility. 

“She made it seem so effortless, forming deep connections with patients right from the beginning,” Choate said. “I asked her—how did you do that, what can I do to be like that?”

“She told me it’s OK to not be perfect,” he said. “It’s about taking time for people and what’s important.”

Now 24, Choate is considering further education and research but for now is eager to get into the workforce. He had thought he would gravitate naturally toward cardiac medicine, but after a practicum in oncology, he will start working as a registered nurse at Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute in May.

“Cancer is something that touches everyone’s life,” he said. “I’m starting as a casual in the outpatient department, but I’m willing to take on anything—chemo, inpatient, even palliative care.”

No matter what, Choate will continue to tap into his own experience with a life-threatening emergency to keep his focus on empathy.

“If one day I can help a person or a family in the way that my family was helped by a nurse, I will have done my job.”

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