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A Day in the Life of an ICU Nurse: Claire’s Story

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Claire Thomas talks about the ‘day in the life’ of an ICU nurse. Watch the video to learn how she navigates this unpredictable and exciting job. (Video: UHN)

Claire Thomas is in her 13th year as a nurse in the Medical Surgical Intensive Care Unit (MSICU) at Toronto General Hospital. She sees patients with a range of needs – multi-organ transplants, heart conditions, and those healing from general surgeries. Here is Claire's story in her own words:

"It's an incredible place to work. It's a real honour, a real privilege to be here [the medical surgical intensive care unit].

A typical day is never typical - it's fast-paced, it's teamwork, it's seeing patients at their most critical and working as a group, as a team to help them get better.

Sometimes you think these patients just won't get better, or 'what is it we're doing to them?' There are things that are uncomfortable that we have to do these patients and you just think, 'why am I doing this?' And then you speak to them later on and overwhelmingly they say thank you.

Image of Claire Thomas
Thomas and her colleagues see some of the most ill patients in Ontario. Teamwork helps her navigate an unpredictable and exciting job. (Photo: UHN)

There's a misnomer that [nurses are] angels. I think nurses are incredible people and I do think we're a special breed. But I think it's all of us - it's the physiotherapists, the respiratory therapists, occupational therapists, dietitians, physicians, support staff, ward clerks and hospital assistants - it's such a huge team of people to make these patients better, it's not just us [nurses]. We couldn't do what we do without the entire team as a whole.

A big thing is, while we're here, it's all-in. I'm here for the shift and give it my 100 per cent but I think it's also important to have a life outside of here so that you can cope.

At the end of the day, nurses are people and we are impacted by what we do. It goes to our team, it goes to my colleagues-- I'm able to debrief and speak with them.

We support each other.

I think it's truly the only thing that I'm really meant to do. If I wasn't a nurse, I'd be trying to figure out how to become one."

Thomas recently stepped away from her role as a bedside nurse to spend a year working with the RECOVER Program – a national follow-up program that follows patients from the ICU for two years after they are discharged.

"Claire was chosen for the RECOVER Program because of her combination of clinical excellence at the bedside in the ICU, her compassion and her excellent communication skills," says Dr. Margaret Herridge, Director of Critical Care Research at UHN.

Above all else, Herridge says Thomas values teamwork.

"She is extremely collaborative, supportive and collegial, celebrating her colleagues' and others' accomplishments."​​​

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