March 2, 2022

Nursing alum thrives on patient gratitude and connection in his mental health work

Nursing alumni committee vice-president MJ Calungcaguin BN’17 talks self-care, travel and best UCalgary memories
MJ Calungcaguin (left) with colleagues Sena and Michael, also Psychiatric Emergency Services registered nurses at Alberta Children's Hospital.
MJ Calungcaguin with colleagues Sena and Michael, also PES registered nurses at Alberta Children's Hospital.

MJ Calungcaguin BN’17 is a mental health RN who has worked in areas from public health to hemodialysis, general surgery and paediatric inpatient psychiatry. He currently holds a role in Psychiatric Emergency Services (PES) at the Alberta Children's Hospital. Calungcaguin is also the vice-president of the Alumni Committee supporting current and future nursing alumni at UCalgary.

“In PES, I provide care to patients and their families who are often in a mental health crisis. I enjoy spending the time getting to know them through a 60-to-90-minute in-depth mental health and risk assessment, educating them about mental health, validating their journeys, and supporting them in cultivating resilience,” he says.

”We collaboratively decide with patients, their families, and the inter-professional team between hospital admission or discharge home with the appropriate community based mental health support. It’s a tough job, but I love it!”

What is it about being a nurse that keeps you going?
Certain patients and families make you want to pull your hair out and quit on the spot, but it's those many patients and families in between that look you in the eye with genuine gratitude and connection. I still have some fuel in my tank to continue being present at the intimate and challenging health-care turning points and journeys of other humans.”

Is there any one thing that could have prevented you from getting to this point in your career?
“A lack of self-care! Mental health workers need to ensure their own mental health is in a good place.”

Best memory from UCalgary Nursing
“Going abroad to Doha, Qatar; hooray for riding camels and going on an overnight safari! Also, I can't forget about the time I mistook the name of their favourite tea "karak" for the name of one of my nursing instructor's Qatari friends...awkward I am, as usual.”

What did you do in your spare time during your nursing program?
“Binge-watched Netflix shows, engulfed massive amounts of junk food, snowboarded, went for bubble-tea with friends, cried, travelled, dreamt of eating healthier and exercising more, laid in bed and tried to practice my French.”

A talent you wish you had
“I wish I could dance and sing! Not like celebrity level, but like a decent shower-singing level at least. Music and dancing are some of my coping tools, and 99 per cent of the time, I have to use those coping strategies in isolation ‘cause in public, they'd be too awkward and embarrassing.”

Your greatest extravagance
“I will cheap out on $10 watches and $15 footwear, but I don't give a second thought about the slightest invitational nudge by a family member or friend to book a $1,000 plus flight ticket to go somewhere across the world. That's probably why I'm still broke...hmmm.”

A dream yet to fulfill
“To become fluent in French, and financially literate enough to invest my money, so that I can have more freedom! Oh and of course to finish seeing the seven modern wonders of the world. Roman Colosseum and Chichen Itza down, five more to go.”

Your motto
“Not a famous quote, just something I tell myself: ‘Don't take anything personally and stop assuming it's about you.’ A quote I like: ‘Before we speak, let our words pass through these three gates: is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?’ “

What do you consider a most overrated virtue?
“Agreeability. It's good to get along with people, but don't be a ‘yes man.’ And comfort: don't stay there too long ‘cause it'll breed problems down the line. Get your butt in gear and go after more!”

When were you happiest, and where?
“2008 and 2019 strike me as particularly good years. I cultivated the best lifelong friends in 2008, when I was in the eighth grade. And I began travelling by myself and with friends all over the world in 2019.”

Anything you’d rather be doing right now?
“I actually enjoyed answering these questions. They're good, really authentic questions. I don't self-reflect as much I can, so this is actually therapeutic.”

What do you most value in your friends?
“The standard is high! They have to be honest, trustworthy, loyal, funny AF, non-judgmental, supportive, and dependable.”

Did you have a mentor or do you now?
“I didn't and don't unfortunately. Maybe I'd be a bit more functional and put-together if I had. I wish I did and I wish I do.”

Any good snippets of advice to share with new grads?
“If you're a new grad, congratulations! You've obviously done a billion things right to get this far. Perhaps my advice would be to solicit advice from all those you trust and want to get advice from. Solicit it as many times as you want. Then mesh together all the advice you've gained and revamp it to align with your own beliefs and values.”

If you’re a graduate of UCalgary Nursing and would like to share your journey since graduation, fill out this easy online form to tell us where you are now.