“The beauty of nursing is that there are so many avenues to effect change and improve people’s lives,” says Kyla Christianson, McCall MacBain Scholar and master’s student in the Advanced Practice Nursing program at McGill’s Ingram School of Nursing.

For Kyla Christianson, having the opportunity to collaborate and grow with students and scholars is one of the best parts of being a McCall MacBain Scholar. A first-year master’s student in the Global Health Concentration of the Advanced Practice Nursing Program at the Ingram School of Nursing (ISoN), Kyla is in good company – Chantel Findley, a student in the direct entry master’s program at the ISoN, is also a McCall MacBain scholar.

Designed to encourage purposeful leadership, the scholarships are the result of a landmark $200 million gift in 2019 by John and Marcy McCall MacBain, the second-largest single donation in Canadian history. The McCall MacBain Scholarship covers all tuition and fees for a master’s or professional degree at McGill, a living stipend of $2,000 per month during academic terms, mentorship, coaching, and a leadership development program.

Born and raised in B.C., where she attended Francophone school, Kyla has close ties to Quebec – her mother grew up in Laval and her grandmother still lives here. In fact, Kyla stayed with her grandmother during the final round of scholarship interviews in Montreal. As she recalls, “When the zoom call came from the selection committee, I told them I was in the kitchen with my grandmother. They told me to bring her on the call as well, and then asked her, how would you like your granddaughter to stay another two years? That’s how we found out I had won the scholarship!”

For as long as she can remember, Kyla has aspired to work in health care. Throughout her childhood, her paternal grandmother lived with her family and she has fond memories of falling asleep in her grandmother’s arms after preschool. Years later, when her grandmother struggled with the cognitive, physical and emotional decline brought about by dementia, Kyla cared for her with similar tenderness.

Kyla is grateful to her mother who initially recommended that she pursue nursing. She states, “If it wasn’t for my mom’s encouragement I probably wouldn’t have even considered applying to McGill or to the McCall MacBain scholarship”. A strong science student, her intellectual curiosity and her innate compassion led Kyla to complete her undergraduate degree in nursing at the University of British Columbia. She found her clinical rotations in long term care particularly gratifying. “I fell in love with how rewarding it is to care for someone else with kindness and compassion,” she asserts. Throughout school and once becoming a registered nurse she worked in the Surgical Ophthalmology Department before moving to Montreal this past September.

Thanks to Kyla’s involvement with the Rotary, at 16, she went on a 10-month youth exchange program in Taiwan, where she lived with a host family, attended school, and learned Chinese. She went on to co-found a Rotary Youth Exchange Club (ROTEX), offering peer-to-peer support to past, current and future international exchange students. She is currently finishing up a two-year term as co-president of ROTEX International.

Wanting to further explore her interests in global health, research and advocacy, Kyla applied to the advanced practice nursing master’s program at the ISoN. She admits to being intimidated at the beginning when she realized that her peers had anywhere from two to 20 years of clinical nursing experience. Shifting her mindset helped, she says. “I realized that even though I don’t have much clinical experience, I have other things to offer such as my experience in leadership and advocacy.”

This spring, Kyla is preparing to head back to Asia, where she will spend 10 weeks in Shanghai, China working on the Healthy Life Trajectories Initiative (HELTi) research project under the supervision of Assistant Professor Andraea Van Hulst. HELTi is an international research consortium developing evidence-based interventions that span from pre-conception across pregnancy and into the postnatal and early childhood periods with a goal of improving maternal, infant and child health. She is excited by the opportunities afforded to her as a master’s student at the ISoN and grateful for the support of faculty. “The beauty of nursing is that there are so many avenues to effect change and improve people’s lives,” she says.

Kyla Christianson poses outdoors with 5 other teenagers in Taiwan
Sixteen year-old Kyla Christianson participates in a 10-month Rotary Club youth exchange program in Taiwan.