At the start of his career, 8A Nurse Manager Kevin White vowed to only stay in one place for about five years. UHN provided him with enough challenges and opportunities that he stayed for almost three decades. (Photo: UHN)

When he started his career in nursing, Kevin White told himself he would only stay at an organization for five years, 10 tops. Somehow, 27 years have gone by since he joined UHN – then called the Toronto Hospital.

On Friday, March 31, Kevin will bid adieu to Toronto Western Hospital (TWH), where he spent the majority of his time at UHN, progressing through several clinical and leadership positions across different services.

"It's surreal," Kevin says in between greeting members of his team from the 8A Fell General Internal Medicine (GIM) Unit where he has managed inpatient care for the p​ast seven years. "I never would have thought I'd end up staying as long as I did, but I was very fortunate that throughout my time at UHN several serendipitous opportunities came my way, that kept me challenged and gave me exposure to new things."

It was a part-time job at a hospital in Guelph that shifted Kevin's career trajectory to pursue nursing. He had just completed his first degree in human biology and biomedical sciences, and was working during the summer in a role similar to what would be considered a personal support worker today.

"I really enjoyed the contact with people," he recalls. "It was completely different from the career in research I was headed towards, and so I decided to go into nursing."

After completing his nursing degree at the University of Toronto, Kevin worked at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre for two years before his career took him on a great adventure: working for three years as a clinical educator at the King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital in Saudi Arabia.

"I went to Saudi Arabia for the experience and the culture, and that is how I got addicted to travelling!" he says. "I learned a lot there running nursing leadership courses and was involved in local health education programs. It was great."

Upon his return to Canada in 1995, Kevin came to work at the Toronto Western Division of the Toronto Hospital, which formally became TWH when the Toronto Hospital merged with the Princess Margaret Hospital in 1998, subsequently creating University Health Network.

'Pandemic has been single biggest challenge of my whole career'

Once at TWH, Kevin's five-year rule went out the window as he progressed through several different positions in both inpatient and outpatient settings across the Spine, Neurosciences, Hepatology, Dermatology and GIM programs. He even spent six months managing the psychiatry unit at Toronto General Hospital (TGH).

But though his work has been challenging and interesting, it is the people he has come to know at TWH that has made all the long days and hard work worthwhile. A mini celebrity at TWH, Kevin can't walk the hospital halls too long without a "hello" or a wave in his direction. He is known to use a few phrases in foreign languages he's picked up along his travels to greet fellow staff, exchanging pleasantries in Portuguese, Arabic, Italian and French.

"The collegiality at UHN, particularly at TWH, really makes it easy to work through some difficult challenges because everyone does work together to find solutions," he says. "There is a huge sense of cooperation and support among the staff, not just at the professional level but at the personal level.

"I had an acute sense that if I ever needed help beyond my day job, the people here would support me without hesitation."

Though the day-to-day of a Nurse Manager always poses challenges, the pandemic upped the ante to another level. As manager of a GIM inpatient unit, Kevin's team was one of the first to transition to caring for COVID-19 patients on a dedicated unit.

He contracted COVID himself during Wave One, which meant he had to isolate at home, only able to support colleagues remotely. That not only left him very frustrated, but also with a deep fatigue that didn't resolve for 18 months.

"The pandemic has been single biggest challenge of my whole career," Kevin says. "COVID has been worse than SARS, because there was so much uncertainty in the beginning and each subsequent wave has presented a different challenge than the previous one.

"My career is ending on such an intense note, but I'm proud of the work we all did together to get through it."

Though he still doesn't quite believe he won't be heading to TWH every day, Kevin has many plans for his retirement. He will be moving out of Toronto to the country with his husband, Jeffrey, spending time with family and many hours in his garden, as well as making time to feed his travel addiction.

But first, some much needed rest.

"I will miss the people who make this such a great place to work, I'll miss seeing them every day," he says. "But I am definitely ready to sleep for a month!"

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