Debra Davies, known to everyone as Deb, started working at Toronto Western Hospital as a nurse in 1986. Nearly 40 years later, she's retiring as Nurse Manager for Toronto General Hospital's Emergency Department, leaving a legacy that will live on long after she's left the building. (Photo: UHN)

For Debra Davies, what started as a part-time nursing position turned into a legacy.

Her UHN story began nearly 40 years ago, on the surgical floors at Toronto Western Hospital. This led her to a full-time position at Toronto General in 1989, when surgical units had just started doing liver transplants.

"It was an incredible opportunity to learn and really fine-tune my critical thinking skills," she says. "But I knew my future lied in 'Emerge.'"

Deb, as everyone refers to her, completed her nursing consolidation – a practical nursing school placement – working in Emergency Departments and craved the fast-paced environment ever since.

On Tuesday, Jan. 31, she retired as Nurse Manager for Toronto General Hospital's Emergency Department, marking the end of an era for hundreds of nurses, leaders and UHN staff members.

"When I think of Deb, I think strong, yet humble leader," Sarah McDermid-Flabbi, Advanced Practice Nurse Educator, said during an event to celebrate Deb's contributions to UHN.

"Over the years, I've gone to her for not only work advice but for life advice too. She's a great listener and a fierce advocate and I think that's why people want to work here, why they stay, and why they come back."

Deb says that a common question she's asked is why she chose to stay within the same organization for so long. She answers by acknowledging that working with the same people over time creates a sense of community.

"Something wonderful happens when you get to share the happy moments with your team, but also get to be there to support them through difficult times," she says. "I knew I could always count on them for support because they're like family.

"I've seen weddings, babies, even some of their babies have had babies. I've seen new puppies, graduations, and promotions. It's been such a blessing being able to watch them grow and also be a mentor for the next generation of nurses at UHN."

Watch a tribute to Deb Davies, retiring Nurse Manager at Toronto General Hospital's Emergency Department. (Video: UHN)

Turning challenges into achievements

Over the course of her career, Deb has been a key player putting protocols in place for many infectious disease outbreaks, including SARS and COVID-19.

She was also on the frontline of the Ebola epidemic, something she considers to be both one of her biggest challenges and biggest accomplishments.

"When we first heard about Ebola, we needed to act fast and put a plan in place for how we would treat patients," she says. "But we needed to also protect our staff who were looking after the patients who needed our help."

Deb looked at this challenge as an opportunity to work with different departments at UHN – notably the Emergency Preparedness and Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) groups – as a way to enhance personal protective equipment (PPE) and reduce contamination for her staff.

"At the time, Ebola was very scary because the chance of people dying was higher than SARS," she says. "That, to me, was a big challenge. But it was a great challenge, because the outcome in the end was phenomenal. Everyone pulled together for a common goal, which I think is really what UHN is all about."

Many of the guidelines for infectious disease outbreaks that are currently in place at UHN are a result of Deb's teamwork and leadership.

"Every inch of the Toronto General Emergency Department has Deb's signature on it," says Sam Sabbah, Medical Director of Emergency Medicine at UHN. "Over the years, she has directly impacted the care of hundreds of thousands of patients.

"The culture that she's created in this department is truly phenomenal, and every member of our team has been positively influenced by her."

She has left an unwavering impact on patients and staff across various departments at UHN.

"Deb created a department of very strong individuals who are going to follow in her footsteps," says Marnie Escaf, Clinical Vice President, UHN. "This is not about the end of a Deb Davies era, it's about the beginning of a Deb Davies legacy."

"There is a brave spirited, can-do attitude that permeates our team in 'Emerge.' And Deb is responsible for that," says Fayez Quereshy, Clinical Vice President, UHN. "Her legacy will live on long after she leaves the building."

In retirement, Deb is looking forward to travelling, going to the gym, and waking up without an alarm clock.

"I'm looking forward to going on more adventures, bike rides and not having to wake up at 5 a.m.," she says. "I'm not a morning person. Never have been and never will be!"

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