Good of the nation: Suzanne McAdam fosters partnership between NAIT and the Canadian Armed Forces

Published on June 12, 2024

2024 Honorary Bachelor of Technology recipient

When Suzanne McAdam sees value in something, she commits to it. You can trace that back to high school, when a classmate who’d joined the navy suggested the Canadian Armed Forces were worth a try. She’d been thinking of following her father, a general practitioner, into medicine. But maybe med school could wait. Travel and adventure suggested a more immediate opportunity for growth.

Thirty-two years later, McAdam – now Chief Warrant Officer, the highest rank among senior non-commissioned officers – is still with the forces. “I just really enjoyed it,” she says. “I really wanted to perfect it.”

And there was a medical connection after all. McAdam joined the forces’ health services unit as a medical assistant, ascending into various roles, including instructor. Today, she's the senior enlisted advisor and a leader in military health care, managing base clinics from B.C. to Thunder Bay, throughout the North, and field units wherever they’re needed.

“It’s a very busy time. There’s a lot of readiness because there is a lot of conflict in the world.” Field units in particular have unique needs. “You’re under stress for long periods of time under austere conditions. Before they go, these folks need to have the strongest training possible.”

That’s why, over the years, NAIT has become something else to which McAdam has committed herself, having recognized the impact the relationship would come to have on not just her own ability to continue to perfect her role in the forces, but upon the entire country.

Seeing the potential

In the mid-2010s, a past NAIT School of Health and Life Sciences dean reached out to local Canadian Forces authorities about an exciting new project just getting underway at NAIT. It promised expertise and state-of-the-art equipment that would offer training opportunities unlike any that soldiers may experience outside of an actual battlefield.

Her superiors assigned McAdam to investigate. She arrived on campus – at the Centre for Applied Technologies, then still under construction – to find … an empty room.

“It was bare bones, nothing,” McAdam recalls. “We were in hard hats and boots.”

In what’s known as Theatre 9, however, she could see the potential. The 935-square-foot room was to be the crown jewel of what’s now the Centre for Advanced Simulation (CAMS), a world-class facility dedicated to testing and developing the skills of health-care students before they encounter the real thing on the job.

With its coming multimedia capabilities, the theatre would re-create the sights, sounds and even smells of military fieldwork. It would be the setting from which actors playing patients or even high-tech, fully responsive manakins could be transferred to adjacent hospital rooms for further “treatment.”

“Even that first meeting was amazing,” says McAdam. It would soon lead to a signing of a memorandum of understanding that would serve as the basis for a relationship between NAIT and the Canadian Forces that persists today.

It would also lead to the training McAdam wanted for her staff. In February 2019, the completed centre staged a three-day workshop focused on trauma and medical emergencies for 124 military medical technicians, allowing students to make and learn from mistakes that can’t be made on the battlefield.

McAdam recalls attendees leaving the event feeling excited and, most importantly, confident.

“It wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t gone to see [the centre] in 2016,” she says. “We’re just so lucky to be able to have that relationship with NAIT.”

Disaster scenario at CAMS

A national impact

Over the years, a variety of commanders have served as administrative points of contact between NAIT and the Canadian Armed Forces. Throughout, however, McAdam has successfully communicated the importance of the relationship to her superiors, laying the foundation for more education to come.

“Suzanne has been the champion,” says dean of the School of Health and Life Sciences Denise MacIver (Medical X-Ray Technology '69). “From that very first meeting to now, Suzanne has been the constant.”

CAMS director Kerri Oshust (Medical Radiologic Technology '99) agrees, seeing McAdam as a bridge between the worlds of polytechnic education and the military. “She sees how all the pieces fit, she sees the potential and she sees that opportunity.”

And the opportunity goes both ways, Oshust adds, to the benefit of NAIT and its students as well. McAdam sits on the CAMS advisory committee, helping it to set direction and continue to meet emerging student and industry needs. There is talk of the possibility of School of Health and Life Sciences students carrying out practicum placements at the local forces base.

“There are so many things that we haven’t even tried yet,” says McAdam.

“Our expectation is to continue and expand on what we can do together,” says MacIver. Mutual benefit is one motivator, but so is the prospect of having a larger impact.

In the meantime, MacIver and Oshust take pride in the fact that NAIT, owing largely to McAdam’s involvement, in providing education, is also contributing to Canadian security. “It serves a greater good,” says MacIver.

Because McAdam is committed to that greater good, she’s committed to learning. “If you’re deploying people, you want what’s best for them,” she says. “If you don’t send out your folks trained to the max – in a modernized way, which is what CAMS provides us – I don’t think we’re doing justice for our members, who could lose life or limb.

“I always think, ‘Have I done enough?’ And I think NAIT has really helped me to do that.”

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