From the operating rooms to managing an inpatient unit, Pamela Allen's enjoyed a wide-ranging nursing career at UHN – all at Toronto Western Hospital. "I wouldn't have done it anywhere else," she says as she retires. (Photo: UHN)

To hear her tell it, you would think Pamela Allen had only just recently left her role as a nurse in the operating rooms (OR) to pursue other opportunities.

"Sometimes, I'll take the back stairs down to the OR and those same feelings come back of walking into that environment," she says. "I really miss it there sometimes."

In reality, Pamela – Nurse Manager of Toronto Western Hospital's (TWH) 5A Fell inpatient unit – is vividly recounting a long, wide-ranging and, in some ways, unconventional career that reflects a true passion for nursing; a career that comes to an end on Friday as she retires after 38 years at TWH.

"For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a nurse," Pamela recalls. "I really like people, and nursing offered that, as well as a lot of opportunity, including skills I could use to volunteer overseas."

Pamela arrived at TWH in 1984 as a new graduate on the Orthopedic/Rheumatology Unit where she spent the first six years of her career. Though she would continue in the specialty of bones and joints, Pamela's love for science and anatomy led her to take advantage of an opportunity to transfer to the OR.

Pamela spent the next 25 years in Perioperative Services, where she developed a passion for advancing the profession of nursing, and improving the patient care experience through innovative quality improvement initiatives and implementing cutting-edge technology.

"It was really exciting to be part of this era," Pamela recalls. "UHN really supported nurses in having a global impact and sharing their knowledge globally.

"I really enjoyed being part of that – being encouraged to look at things differently, think outside the box, and make a difference – it allowed me to be part of so many initiatives that were cutting edge."

'The ability to inspire, influence and motivate'

It helped that Pamela's OR Nurse Manager, Rose Puopolo, also made it a priority for nurses to have time to conduct research and present.

"Kudos to Rose for supporting nurses in their research," Pamela says. "Because of that support, I was able to travel to places as far as Japan, Africa and Denmark to present research."

Rose was in her first week at UHN when she hired Pamela as a nursing leader in the OR.

"I could see she had the ability to inspire, influence and motivate the team and other healthcare workers to achieve their highest potential and our unit goals," Rose recalls.

"I will miss her as a nursing leader."

It was while Pamela completed her master's degree that she got the idea to venture beyond the OR.

"I loved working in the OR, but some of my colleagues encouraged me not to limit myself to one department," she recalls. "That's when the light bulb went off that my next step should be inpatient management."

Developed an understanding of 'the true meaning of the patient's journey'

Although her time in the OR prepared her well for the administrative side of the job, Pamela says she had to learn "a whole new language" when she went to work on the Spinal Unit in 2016. However, it is here that she feels she deepened her interactions with patients and their families.

"In the OR, you hold the patient's hand before they go to sleep, and make sure you're there when they wake up," Pamela explains. "It's important work, but different from an inpatient unit.

"Here, you start to understand the true meaning of the patient's journey as it reflects the holistic approach from admission to discharge. You watch patients progress through their journey, and work with their loved ones to help provide support for them to heal.

"I'm glad I did this, I didn't realize I was missing that patient/family interaction."

It's also on the inpatient unit where Pamela says her interactions with colleagues have deepened.

"I love my OR family, but as I transitioned to the inpatient world, I realized the connection between our team – nursing, allied health, support staff, and the medical team – is a mosaic where all pieces come together," she says.

Though she is sad to leave her colleagues, team and patients behind, Pamela has her sights set on the next chapter, starting with a few "grandchild-less" vacations, including one with her sister to Panama.

She then plans to spend more time with her grandchildren and start planning some overseas volunteering projects with her husband who retired five years ago.

But she takes with her fond memories of her time at UHN.

"It's been a wonderful journey," Pamela says. "TWH was my only place of full-time employment. I'm very fortunate to have done my whole career in one place, I wouldn't have done it anywhere else."

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