Our People in Profile: Public health nurse Angela Harper faces unpredictability of notifiable disease work with strength from black loyalist heritage

Angela Harper is a public health nurse with NSHA's health protection team in Dartmouth.
Angela Harper is a public health nurse with NSHA's health protection team in Dartmouth.

As a member of NSHA’s health protection team, Angela Harper works tirelessly to keep the public safe from infectious diseases.

Part of the public health nurse’s work involves following up on cases of transmittable diseases that are reported to public health.

Every day, Harper’s team gathers to review what cases need their attention, knowing that more reports or an outbreak could come later that same day.

“Once a pathogen is identified, our job is to stop the spread of infection,” said Harper, who works out of Public Health Services in Dartmouth.

She is involved in both community outbreaks, which can include diseases such as measles, mumps or salmonella; and institutional outbreaks, such as an influenza outbreak in a long-term care facility.

“If we can, we identify the origin and do our best working with the other organizations to prevent the spread of the infection to anybody else in the population,” she said.

In addition to managing the spread of disease, Harper also provides those affected with counselling and education.

Another aspect of her work is disease prevention through the immunization program.

Harper works with students in junior high school, as well as newcomer families, to ensure they are vaccinated against numerous diseases.
As a whole, Harper’s role involves often speaking to members of the community about sensitive topics. Being of African descent has influenced her approach in those situations.

“I treat people the way that I want to be treated,” Harper said. “I make no assumptions about them and treat everyone as an individual. I ask a lot of questions, because I am genuinely interested in what they have to say, and I let them tell their story.”

This approach helps her to build a rapport with her clients – something than can be difficult to establish in phone conversations about sensitive health issues.

Harper has a challenging role, but credits her courage and strength to her black loyalist heritage.

“It makes me feel proud when I think of how hard they worked, establishing communities and never giving up,” she said. “They passed down those qualities to their children and they were passed down to us.”

Harper gives back to her community by lending her public health experience to the Health Association of African Canadians, an organization that her mother helped found.

Through the organization’s Nova Scotia Community Alliance Project, she donates her time to educate the African, Caribbean and black communities about sexually transmitted infections and blood borne infections.

“It makes me proud when I see that we have some together as a community and that we are sincerely interested in the health of the African Canadian population here in Nova Scotia.”