For Lucie Tremblay, Director of Nursing for CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, staying connected to patients and staff is paramount, no matter the role she is in. Since her start in the nursing field in 1984, she has taken on increasingly challenging senior roles. She was President of the Order of Nurses of Quebec from 2012 to 2018 and now oversees the department of Nursing for more than 30 facilities, including the Jewish General Hospital, an interlocking array of three specialized hospitals, five CLSCs, two rehabilitation centres, six long-term care sites, two day centres and several affiliated research facilities. She shared some of her thoughts in a conversation at her office at the Jewish General Hospital.

You took on your current role just a year before the pandemic started. Can you tell me about the challenges you faced during the pandemic?

I think that what changed was the fact that it was a lot more difficult to plan anything. When the pandemic struck, everything was much, much faster. We were getting new information so rapidly that we needed to change our protocols, sometimes several times a day. Not only change them, but communicate them to a large group of people.

We also had to make sure that enough resources were available. That meant making sure we had enough beds, that we had enough equipment, that we had enough staff.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we developed education to make sure that we were preparing nurses in different specialties. As an example, we gave training to go work in the ICU in a shorter amount of time. Usually, it’s a set six-week program but we were doing it in a few days. We modified their role to work more as an extender of the ICU nurses. We gave them the tools to provide safe care on the unit.

The pandemic was demanding on healthcare workers. Did you do anything special to support your staff during this time?

Yes. We were very lucky, because it wasn’t only the great work of the nursing management staff supporting them. HR was absolutely fantastic with the Employee Assistance Programs for psychological health. A COVID line for staff to call and ask questions was created and the JGH Foundation was also very supportive.

We have a program where we gave staff a ribbon to underline their contribution. Many of our nurses were recognized by the Canadian Nurses Association for what they did during the pandemic. Schools were sending staff thank you notes. So I think that there were a lot of things that were done that were quite helpful.

How do you stay connected to staff and patients?

Right now, I have the privilege of going on the floors and seeing what’s going on. So this week, I went to visit four different places to see how it was going with the patients. This connection with the patient and also with the frontline staff is very important to me – knowing what are their challenges? What are their achievements? Why are staff coming here? And why do they stay?

Because one of the biggest challenges for the next 10 years will be to attract and retain staff. And this is especially true with nurses. We see everywhere in the news that there’s a shortage of nurses. And without them, we’re not able to provide care. We need to offer an environment that is conducive to providing care.

What is one thing you wish the public knew about nurses and nursing?

The autonomy of the nurses. Often, people think that nurses follow instructions, that they are nice people, they’re caring, and they’re there to hold your hand. But we do so much more: we’re able to assess the patient, we’re able to adjust medication, and we’re able to have our own assessment to develop a care plan. We are very autonomous professionals with a scope of practice that is extremely large.

You have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. How do you balance work and life?

In normal life, I think that it’s important to stop at some point and to go play outside, go see a play or go to the movies. I’m a football fan and I love to watch the games.

The pandemic was quite demanding and I’m lucky because I don’t have kids at home anymore and I have a very good husband. They took care of me, making sure that life was easier for me. I’m well supported with my family.

You’ve been in nursing for 37 years. What do you love about what you do?

I still love what I do as I did on the first day. You know, being a nurse is – obviously I’m biased – the most beautiful profession in the world. We are there the day the person takes their first breath, and we are there throughout their lives until they have their last breath. We have a connection with the patient.

During the pandemic, nurses were the human contact to the patient. I remember when I was doing the rounds, one of the nurses told me about holding up an iPad in the room of a patient who was dying, and that was the last connection between the family and the patient.

I find that nurses are competent and courageous. Nurses are caring. So I think that it’s such a privilege to be a nurse.