I can’t believe how fortunate I am

Mia Biondi.
Mia Biondi outside All Saints, Sherbourne Street in Toronto
 on February 1, 2015

Mia Biondi, a registered nurse, is the coordinator of the PROS program (Providing Resources, Offering Support) at All Saints Church, Sherbourne Street in Toronto.

PROS is a comprehensive care program for trafficked individuals in Toronto, funded by the Diocese of Toronto. I spend about half my time working directly with clients, including those who have been trafficked or experienced trauma. I work holistically to meet their biological, psychological, social and spiritual needs. I also assist at our two drop-in programs for women and am excited to start a third that will focus on building capacity. My other duties include outreach, research, community education and political action.

Unfortunately, there is very little awareness of the problem of human trafficking in Canada among healthcare providers. For this reason, I recently submitted a resolution to the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) to advocate for community prevention, as well as for protocols for nurses to identify trafficked individuals in healthcare settings like emergency rooms. We have also asked the RNAO to lobby for more funding for aftercare. It is my hope that I will be able to present this resolution at the RNAO’s upcoming annual general meeting, and gain the support of other members.

One of the best parts about working at All Saints is that I get to know the clients. I recently attended the Christmas service at All Saints, where I saw many of our clients in a different light. It was a powerful service and completely inclusive – including a blessing done by a client in another language. It has made me reflect on how big a role spirituality plays in our clients’ lives, and makes me appreciate how our clergy are able to meet spiritual needs in an accessible setting.

Recently, a client asked me to assist her in reaching an educational goal. Being able to facilitate this type of case-management is one of the best aspects of my job. The most difficult aspect of this position is the darkness of the subject matter.

I grew up outside of Chatham and completed my BSc at the University of Guelph, my PhD at McGill, and my BScN at Western University. During this time, I won several awards, including an HIV/AIDS Biomedical Research Award, and the Excellence in Professional Nursing Practice from the Council of Ontario University Programs in Nursing. In addition to acting as the PROS coordinator, I am a research fellow at the University Health Network, where I work on Hepatitis C, an issue that largely affects marginalized populations.

Before moving to Toronto, I volunteered with the London Anti-Human Trafficking Committee, and I wanted to continue this type of work in Toronto, but wasn’t sure how. Sometimes I can’t believe how fortunate I am to be able to do clinical work at All Saints and research at the University Health Network, in two areas that I am passionate about. I believe that this is only possible because of the tremendous leadership of both of my supervisors, who have supported me in connecting these two worlds. I think that being given the autonomy at All Saints to take the program in a certain direction will be a career experience that is difficult to top.

As a child, I remember praying for people to find their vocation, and thought how important a prayer this was. As an adult, I have also struggled to find a vocation, knowing that my main goal was to serve God and try to effect change, but not being sure exactly how to do it. During my undergraduate studies, I went on two outreach trips to sub-Saharan Africa, and spent much time reflecting and journaling on why I was there. After seeing HIV affect so many, I did a PhD studying HIV drugs, but something was still missing. I decided that I would pursue nursing so that I would be able to provide that front-line care, while applying my research skills to a clinical setting. During my nursing education, I had placements in hospital-based settings but quickly realized that these types of positions were not for me. After completing my BScN, I knew it would be difficult to obtain a position in the community, but I had faith that God had a plan for me. I had been volunteering at All Saints, and only a few weeks after becoming a registered nurse, the PROS position came up – a position that would allow me to combine all my previous knowledge and training.

The next major project I am working on is to implement a TELUS Health Electronic Medical Record (EMR) at All Saints. With this, we will be one of the first RN-led drop-ins to have this type of system. An EMR will allow us to document pieces of a client’s history over time, while tracking progress, even if a client does not want to give her or his full name. We will also be able to customize assessment tools for our drop-in setting and anti-human trafficking initiatives.

I have to say that I never thought I would get a position that I was so passionate about this early in my nursing career. In five years, I hope to be able to continue to work with street-involved individuals, but to have obtained the Nurse Practitioner certificate so that I will be able to provide more clinical case-management for difficult-to-reach populations.


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