Susan Woollard: A nurse's journey

It's easy to understand why it's a challenge for Susan Woollard, Interim Vice President, Clinical Services, Quality and Risk, Chief Nursing Executive, to pinpoint her favourite memories at North York General Hospital (NYGH) over the past 38 years.
“There's just so many,” Susan laughs. “I don't even know where to begin!”
Susan Woollard, Interim Vice President, Clinical Services, Quality & Risk, Chief Nursing Executive at North York General Hospital
Susan Woollard, Interim Vice President, Clinical Services, Qualityand Risk, Chief Nursing Executive
Susan first arrived at NYGH in 1980, fresh out of nursing school and eager to start her shift on the 5 West Urology Unit. “I was so excited to have been hired at North York General,” Susan remembers. “Even back then, my fellow nursing students and I knew that this hospital had a great reputation for being a close-knit and positive work environment."

While strong camaraderie remains today, Susan says there has been a notable difference to approaching patient care from when she started. “Health care professionals worked with discipline-specific plans of care that were integrated into the Nursing Care Plan,” she says. “In the end, it was the nurse's role to stitch these plans together to provide a holistic view of a patient's recovery. Nowadays, health care professionals across the disciplines work together to come up with an overall plan of care.”

Another difference in providing care is the new role of the patient. In the past, health care professionals delivered care to patients; today, health care professionals partner with them. “We work with the patient and their families to create a health care plan that is tailored to their personal preferences and goals,” says Susan. “Over the years, we've started to think of the patient as an important member of the health care team.”

A change of pace

Eventually, Susan moved to the Emergency Department (ED) to continue her journey as a nurse, then became the Clinical Team Manager and finally the Program Director. “I would look down from 5 West and watch the Emergency Department and wonder what was happening there,” she remembers. “When I arrived, it was a whirlwind — you had such a short period of time to make a connection with the patient to figure out their story and care needs. It was a fascinating, fast-moving puzzle.”

Again, she found the tightness of the team appealing. “We always pulled together, especially when times were rough.” When Susan decided to take a formal role in teaching nursing at a community college, she continued with shifts in the ED. “I couldn't leave it behind,” she says simply.

The team's tightness served them well when SARS, a highly contagious respiratory virus, hit in 2003. The hospital was the epicentre for the second outbreak.

“It was a surreal time,” she remembers. “None of us had experienced anything like it before. We were constantly adjusting to new guidelines for safety and quality, while trying to deliver care.” (For more information about this part of our history please visit NYGH's 50th Anniversary Commemorative Book online).

“At the same time, nurses were concerned about endangering their families back home. I had young kids at the time, and I would have to leave every day to serve patients in need and would then sometimes have to be quarantined. I remember meetings where staff, nurses and physicians were sitting on the floor, just exhausted. It was emotionally and physically draining.”

Coming out of the SARS experience changed the hospital, according to Susan. It started with the environment: the ED was outfitted with glass doors and barriers to protect frontline staff from infection and a new ED technology system to better track a patient's history at triage.

Hospital staff and physicians pressed on, focused on learning from the experience to deliver the best possible care. “We were committed to making things better,” Susan says. “People at North York General showed such resilience during that time. I'm incredibly honoured to have served with them.”

Returning to her roots

In 2011, Susan would become the Program Director of Medicine — returning to inpatient care where she had begun her career —and observed the evolution in treating patients. In places such as the Critical Care Unit, every day physicians, nurses and allied health professionals would come together, moving from room to room to plan and partner with patients and families.

“Everyone came together as a team to figure out what was best for the patient,” she says. “It is a dialogue rather than a directive. Patients and families were encouraged to actively participate in their health care journey.”

In 2018, Susan was the North York General lead for the newly created Reactivation Care Centre, a facility that provides specialized care for patients transitioning out of hospital, including specialized activation therapies in a setting designed to focus on the needs of the patient and support the transition to home or other discharge destinations. The centre is a collaborative with the Central Local Health Integration Network and four other hospitals.

“We knew providing our patients with specialized care focused on optimizing their strengths and abilities was the right thing to do,” Susan says. “So we moved quickly to make that happen.”

In the span of a mere six months, hospital teams from North York General, Humber River Hospital, Southlake Regional Health Centre, Mackenzie Health and Markham Stouffville Hospital, worked together to plan for the seamless transition of patients to a newly renovated former Humber River Hospital Finch site, located at 2111 Finch Avenue West.

“It was certainly a busy time, but by pooling our collective resources both in hospital and through multihospital teams, we were able to make it happen,” Susan says. “It's all about providing the right care, at the right time, in the right place.”

Leadership at all levels

In her new role as Interim Vice President, Clinical Services, Qualityand Risk, Chief Nursing Executive, Susan is able to appreciate how much nursing has evolved over the years. She has seen a bloom of opportunity for nurses in virtually all areas of the hospital — from clinical informatics to patient navigation to education.

“We know how important nursing is not just at this hospital but in health care in general,” Susan says. “It's a fascinating profession — one that requires strength and compassion, expertise and resourcefulness. As a nurse, I have been honoured to serve in everything from childbirth to end-of-life care and it truly humbles me to think about the role nurses play in the lives of patients and families.”

Looking back, Susan feels fortunate to have chosen nursing as her profession and North York General Hospital as her second home. “At NYGH, nurses provide leadership at all levels— from the frontline to the administration,” she says. “Nurses who have been in long-term roles will tell you this is the place to be and our new nurses know that their voices will be heard. It's truly a special place to be a nurse.”

Learn more about nursing at North York General through the years by viewing our 50th Anniversary Commemorative Book, page 20.There you can see a photo of Susan Woollard and President and CEO Karyn Popovich early in their nursing career at NYGH.

May 2, 2018

This article first appeared in the May 2018 issue of The Pulse, North York General Hospital's community newsletter. Subscribe to receive 10 issues per year.

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