Dec. 17, 2019

Nursing pioneer in palliative and primary care says she has loved every single minute of nursing career

50 Faces of Nursing: Berna Moss, BN’92
50 Faces of Nursing: Berna Moss, BN’92
Berna Moss, BN’92 conceived, initiated and managed the first rural primary care centre in Alberta.

Berna Moss was only 12 when she decided she wanted to become a nurse.

“My parents had a friend who was an operating room nurse out on Vancouver Island. I remember thinking I want to grow up and be just like her,” says the 78-year-old retired nurse today. “When I went into nursing school, that’s what I wanted to be: an operating room nurse.”

And that she did, and more. Moss grew up in Bassano, Alberta and got her nursing diploma from the Calgary General Hospital in 1961. She spent two decades as an operating room (OR) nurse. During those years, she worked in ORs in Trenton, Ontario, Edmonton and Saskatoon, and as OR Head Nurse in Ames, Iowa and Surgical Suite Supervisor at Rockyview Hospital in Calgary.

“In the operating room, every day was different and a new challenge,” she says. “I loved the pace of it. The high speed of everything as well as the good teamwork and rapport. I was wired for that sort of stuff.”

Moss moved back to Bassano in 1980 where she was head nurse at Bassano General Hospital before becoming the nursing manager. It was there she pioneered a palliative care program that’s still a pillar of that hospital today. Most notably, she also conceived, initiated and managed the first rural primary care centre in Alberta. The Bassano Health Centre, which opened in 1988, is still widely regarded as the model for rural health care delivery.

In 2000, Moss was recognized with a CARNA’s Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to the profession. That same year, she was profiled on Maclean’s annual Honor Roll as one of 12 Canadians who made a difference.

In 2005, she attempted to retire but found herself unable to quit nursing for good, describing how “I left my name on casual so I could pick up shifts at the hospital as a general duty nurse.”

For the next 13 years, she also worked as a community health nurse with Siksika Health Services and on Health Canada’s Travel Team providing  community health nursing to remote northern Alberta reserves.

Moss now lives in Okotoks where she has been for the last eight years, but even in retirement, she is still actively engaged in her community and volunteering at the women’s shelter in High River. In 2017, she was named by the Canadian Nurses Association as one of the 150 Nurses for Canada recognized for pioneering health innovation in Canada and globally.

“I have loved every single minute I’ve been a nurse,” she says. “If I could start over, there isn’t a single thing that I would do differently.”

50 Faces of Nursing: Berna Moss, BN’92

Moss (right) at convocation in 1992 with classmate and coworker Carol Secondiak.

In your experience, how did rural and urban nursing differ?

“I remember being nurse manager [in Bassano] and it was a challenge in a rural facility to keep current with technology and information systems and staffing was an ongoing issue too. With rural nursing, you also never know what’s coming in the door. One time I was working, a vehicle drives up to the emergency entrance and a woman runs in and says, ‘I need help. I go ‘oh is someone in the vehicle? And she says, ‘No, it’s me!’ She turned around, ran down the hall to the delivery room, jumped onto the table and had a baby!

“You’re also working with people you know or who know your family. You have a rapport with them because there is so much trust already to begin with. Most of the people who worked there had grown up together so it was a tight group to work with. It was very supportive and it was a good time.”

What's a memorable experience you had at UCalgary Nursing and why it's significant in your life or career?

I was so excited to be there. It was a personal goal I had and I’ve always been a lifelong learner. I couldn’t get enough of it. For my preceptorship, I did Family Systems Nursing at the Foothills.  I spent three wonderful months with Peggy Simpson while she ran a research project between two orthopaedic units.  Family Systems Nursing was being practiced on one unit and not on the other.  Her hypothesis was that it would reduce length of stay and it did.  Until my retirement, I used Family Systems Nursing in my practice and found myself asking those open ended questions when dealing with issues.  It broadened my thinking immensely. 

“I also served on CARNA’s Provincial Council for two terms after graduation. I thus had access to a lot of movers and shakers in the nursing profession through the University of Calgary and CARNA. That access to those excellent resources was a huge asset to a nursing manager of a small rural facility.”

What most excites you about the future of nursing or changes coming in the profession?

I remember doing an ECG with a cardiologist when I was in nursing school who said, ‘I’ll go over this with you but you’ll never use it.’ We’ve come a long way. When I see new graduates, it’s inspiring to see their high knowledge and skill level and how they are recognized as integral and even partners on all healthcare teams.  When I was in school, everyone had to stand up when physicians came to nursing stations. We don’t need to do that anymore!”

What piece of advice would you like to share with aspiring nurses?

The categories you can work in this profession are absolutely amazing and non-ending. It’s incredible what you can do with a BN. You’re young and you want to travel? Get a job on a cruise ship. Go to Europe, work for the military - there are so many options. Think outside the box of what’s out there. There’s nothing wrong with bedside nursing but there are so many other nursing opportunities that didn’t exist when I graduated.”

Is there one luxury in life you would rather not live without?

“My car. I could not do without my car.”

All through 2019, we've highlighted 50 Faces of Nursing, profiling nursing members in celebration of our 50th anniversary. For more, visit