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One conversation changed the trajectory of Susan Chernenko's career.
More than 20 years ago, Susan went back to school as a mature student to complete a graduate program as a nurse practitioner in Alberta.
At a Canadian Society of Transplantation working group conference in 2001, she met Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, Surgeon-in-Chief at UHN and Director of the Toronto Lung Transplant Program. Without knowing who he was, she began to have a conversation with him about her aspirations of working in transplantation as a nurse practitioner.
In fact, Dr. Keshavjee was looking for a nurse practitioner and asked for her CV. Susan went to Toronto for an interview, was hired and began her career in the lung transplant program at Toronto General Hospital (TGH) in 2002 – today the Toronto Lung Transplant Program within the Ajmera Transplant Centre at UHN.
"Being a part of a program that is so innovative and participating at the grassroots level has been a wonderful opportunity," Susan says.
Dr. Lianne Singer, former Medical Director of the Toronto Lung Transplant Program and current Division Head for Respirology and Critical Care Medicine at UHN and Sinai Health System says, “Susan has trained countless nurse practitioners and been a real role model and mentor to many across UHN and beyond."
Susan says "seeing how a team of interdisciplinary healthcare professionals can impact each individual patient is simply extraordinary."
The greatest gift she has received was a heartfelt homemade card from a patient. On the front was a stethoscope in the shape of a heart. The card said: "thank you very much, Susan, for answering all my questions and making me feel safe."
"If a patient feels safe, it means I did my job," Susan says.
Dr. Joy Richards, Vice President Patient Experience & Chief Health Professions, UHN, has worked with Susan for more than 10 years and refers to her as, “a fiercely determined, aspirational and value-based clinician.
"Susan is leaving behind a strong legacy of leadership, clinical expertise, and mentorship," Dr. Richards says. "She has clearly peppered her long nursing career with professional discipline, self-awareness, curiosity, lifelong learning and deep reflection about where she consciously chose to exercise choice, all in the service of her patients and colleagues."
Transformative changes to the role of nurse practitioner
Over the past five years, Susan's focus shifted to giving back to the next generation. Susan is an Associate Graduate Lecturer at the University of Toronto's (U of T) Faculty of Nursing, Nurse Practitioner Program.
"I didn't realize how much I enjoyed teaching until I became immersed in others learning," she says. "The best legacy I could leave behind is strength and determination for the next generation."
While Susan is retiring from her clinical practice, she is going to continue teaching at the U of T.
Susan is a recipient of the Ontario University COUPN award for outstanding Preceptor, and a Lifetime Nurse Practitioner Recognition Achievement Award from the Nurse Practitioner Association of Ontario (NPAO).
Susan's outlook on healthcare splits up the word into two elements: "Health – meaning the clinical side; and care – the human component."
Susan also says: “It's important that we remember to laugh and enjoy what we are doing."
Tara Bolden, Nurse Practitioner Lead at TGH, first met Susan in 2005 on her first day at UHN.
"After spending an hour with Susan, I was amazed by her clinical knowledge and expertise, professionalism, and collaboration with the team," says Tara. "The way she has supported me has been immeasurable."
Susan made transformative changes to the role of the nurse practitioner.
"More than just a vision, Susan invested the time and hard work to evolve and improve the role," Tara says. "Sometimes it was difficult to challenge to the status quo but Susan always made a point to ask the question 'why?' which helped achieve outstanding results."
Susan says, "I want to thank UHN for allowing me to have a full career, fulfill my professional aspirations, stretch my limits and for the opportunity to work with such a high achieving interdisciplinary team."
Susan is looking forward to this next chapter and is eager to continue her teaching and providing the next generation with the tools they need to succeed. Her team knows she is only a call away.