Northcott uses baseball experiences as a frontline worker

May. 14, 2020

Northcott uses baseball experiences as a frontline worker

She looks in for the sign from her catcher, comes set and takes a deep breath to gather herself before kicking and firing a fastball over the outside part of the plate.

This routine was something that Heidi Northcott did numerous times over the course of her baseball career with the Women’s National Team program. Today, although she wears a different type of uniform, it’s that routine and preparedness learned in baseball that is helping in her role as a Registered Respiratory Therapist at an adult acute care setting in Edmonton.

“I find (work) similar to baseball, especially as a pitcher,” she explained. “Some days you are the starting pitcher and other days you're a reliever never knowing what situation you'll come out of the bullpen to. Therefore, I find respiratory therapy very similar to my experience as a pitcher with the national team.”

According to the Edmonton Journal, Covid-19 outbreaks have been declared at 21 seniors and long-term care homes in the province.

“We learned about pandemics and how hospitals typically plan for these types of situations in school, but I definitely did not expect something of this magnitude and especially not this early in my career,” said Northcott who graduated from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in the Respiratory Therapy Program in April 2019.

Fortunately, Alberta’s Covid-19 numbers have not overwhelmed the healthcare system and Northcott says that her training has prepared her “for the worst outcomes”.

“(Respiratory Therapists) are the ones who get called when a patient is having difficulty breathing, needs an artificial airway, or requires high levels of oxygen, non-invasive or invasive ventilation,” she said. “Our education and 1500-hour practicum experience really sets us up well to be able to handle these acute, high stress situations.

“Because we are required and essential in these situations, we are exposed to a multitude of infectious diseases even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Northcott, a native of Rocky Mountain House, hasn’t been able to see her family and close of friends in-person since the beginning of March and has had to deal with new realities on the job including a screening process every time she enters the healthcare setting while also dealing with the stresses associated with the pandemic.

She is able to cope by incorporating regular exercise in her routine, staying well rested and relying on her support network after long, hard days that include 12-hour shifts.

On the job, as she had on the baseball field, Northcott relies on colleagues as “teammates” to ensure that they are providing patients with the best care possible.

“Baseball is an individual sport within a team sport and I find respiratory therapy to be very similar,” she explained. “A lot of the time we are on our own making sure our patients are receiving appropriate respiratory care, but the majority of the time the patient's care plan is multidimensional.

“In my career I have replaced my catcher, infielders and outfielders with nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, pharmacists, nutritionists, social workers and every other healthcare worker involved with that patient's care.”

Northcott also says that the process of receiving information and using it to get better on the field is similar in how she’s been able to improve her skills at work, while the pressure she faced on the mound and how she was able to deal with it is transferable to the workplace.

“I credit baseball as a large reason for my ability to take and implement feedback to improve my performance,” she said. “Being a pitcher on the national team also taught me how to cope in high stress and pressure situations.

“I find the rush of nervous energy very similar from pitching in a high pressure situation to assisting with the placement of an artificial airway during a code blue. I believe being in those high-pressure situations as a pitcher has allowed me to remain cool, collected and level headed in the hospital setting.”

Northcott, who played in three Women’s Baseball World Cup events and the 2015 Pan Am Games, equates her success on the field to her success in the workplace.

She was also planning to rejoin the Baseball Alberta women’s program this summer but that opportunity has been put on hold due to Covid-19.

“I owe a lot of my success in my career to my athletic background and having the opportunity to play baseball at such a high level.

“It is unfortunate to lose our season but important to follow the guidelines set out by governments to ensure everyone stays safe and healthy.”