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As Nurse Manager of the Emergency Department (ED) at Toronto Western Hospital, and a member of TeamUHN for more than 30 years, Janet Pilgrim's career is full of rewarding moments.
But one event stands out for her: in March 2020, Janet announced to her team that the General Internal Medicine unit she was then-managing would be the first COVID-19 unit in the hospital.
"I remember the fear and anxiety in their faces," says Janet. "This was an important moment in my career, and I relied on my leadership education and training to manage it."
Professional development has been an important steppingstone in Janet's journey at UHN. Her story is just one example of how education is an essential part of navigating new challenges on the job.
"My leadership education made all the difference for me," says Janet.
But professional development has taken a backseat in the pandemic. And with virtual or hybrid work, spontaneous idea-sharing and creativity that happens between colleagues in hallways or over a lunch break, is missing.
In addition, the past three years have been devastating to health care workers, and the industry is now facing a massive staff shortage, adding more pressure to the system.
To meet some of these challenges and support staff such as Janet and her team, UHN launched a Professional Development strategy in 2022. A partnership between Education, Collaborative Academic Practice, Medical Affairs and People & Culture, the strategy is a commitment to TeamUHN's growth and development with the hope of bringing more equitable access to learning.
"This strategy is the first of its kind at UHN," says Belinda Vilhena, Director of Operations and Business Development at the Centre for Advancing Collaborative Healthcare and Education (CACHE) and Conference Services/BMO Conference Centre. "We're working to create a menu of professional development offerings like workshops, lunch and learns and shadowing opportunities for staff's personal and professional growth.
"And this needs to be delivered in a variety of ways – in-person, e-learning or virtual sessions. Ideally, all of these offerings will be housed in one accessible website or platform."
The Professional Development team knows UHN staff need education options and attainable learning tools regardless of their title, department or shift time.
"The Professional Development division is in the early phase of building a pathway to education that's more than conferences and courses," says Belinda. "It can happen in rounds or team meetings where staff learn how to ask better questions and dig deeper.
"Learning happens when it's integrated into practice."
Maria Tassone, Executive Director of Education at UHN, leads the Professional Development strategy and draws from her personal and team's experience building the collective rapid-response education that happened at UHN early in the pandemic.
"In 2020, we developed an online platform and supported over 20,000 learners and health care providers through
COVIDLearning.ca, the Medical Lab Science Grad Onboarding, the Vaccination Support Program and the Ontario Workforce Reserve for Senior Support for PSWs," says Maria.
"We showed that rapid health professions education is possible, and we can build on what we learned in terms of high-quality education as a health care intervention."
For Janet, a new approach to professional development is the right idea. And this learning needs to be flexible enough for staff to pick up training while holding onto their protected downtime, which has become a lifeline in the pandemic.
There have been so many changes over the past few years in our work and education in general, but health care professionals such as Janet recognize that some things have stayed the same.
"We have to accept that things need to be different now," she says. "But UHN is still a place where you can develop your career and be the best you can be."