"Three months turned into 24 years," Rosemarie Clarke says of her move from the Medical Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Toronto General Hospital, where she was a nurse for more than a decade, to a research role at the Immunodeficiency Clinic. (Photo: UHN)

Rosemarie Clarke has never been one to shy away from a challenge.

So, even though she loved her decade nursing in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Toronto General Hospital and "thought I would always be there," Rosie – as everyone knows her – decided to at least listen when a position as research coordinator in the Immunodeficiency Clinic at TGH came available.

"I decided to try it for three months," she says of moving from the ICU in 1999. "Research has a different language, a different way of doing things but I soon realized my critical care training helped me analyze and assess, meaning that I've always been stimulated and challenged by the work we do.

"Three months turned into 24 years."

At the end of August, Rosie, who has been Clinical Research Manager at the Immunodeficiency Clinic at TGH since 2009, will retire after 35 years at UHN.

"The team is sad to see her go and will remember her as supportive, accountable, inspirational, committed, ambitious, a team player and advocate, and a caring nurse and manager," says Dr. Sharon Walmsley, Head of the Immunodeficiency Clinic and a renowned HIV researcher, educator and clinician.

"Personally, I have always referred to her as my 'right hand,' working with me rather than for me, with complementary skills that enabled us to do impactful and ethical research.

"I now feel as if I have undergone an amputation."

Prides herself on building relationships

While studying nursing at college, Rosie did her placement in General Surgery at TGH. She was hired upon graduation in July 1988, moving to the Medical Surgical Intensive Care Unit (MSICU) a year later.

"She was an outstanding ICU nurse," says Dr. John Granton, a UHN Intensive Care physician who has known Rosie for many years and worked with her when he was a resident in the MSICU.

"She took her interpersonal skills and talent into the research realm to become an amazing research coordinator. In this role, she was a 'go-to' person for sober thought and reflective comments."

Dr. Granton, who says he always tried to enlist Rosie on any committee work he did over the years, describes her as "a solid citizen with a heart of gold; her departure will leave a void at UHN."

Rosie has always prided herself on building relationships. Whether it's those on her team, patients undergoing clinical trials or members of the Research Ethics Board, she believes connections are key.

"She's very approachable and the way she sees it, her success comes through the success of others," says Chantale Sheehan, administrative assistant and research coordinator in the Immunodeficiency Clinic, and a colleague of Rosie's for the past 16 years. "That's a key part of her leadership style.

"She's really good at advocating on behalf of patients in the clinic and staff on the team. She's a force."

Rizani Ravindran, a clinical research coordinator who has worked with Rosie since September 2021, calls her "the best manager I have ever had," adding "she truly cares for the success and growth of every member of her team.

"She was the kind of manager that really advocated for her team and would always go above and beyond to lend a helping hand where needed, despite her own busy schedule."

Longtime colleague Adriana D'Aquila, who shared an office with Rosie for about 20 years – "I think I know her better than her husband does" – echoes those comments.

"She's always been really supportive and inspiring," says Adriana, a clinical research nurse coordinator.

'Proud to contribute to moving research forward'

Rosie, who completed her B.Sc. (Honours) from then-Ryerson University in 2011 and a Masters of Health Management at McMaster University in 2015, believes education and relationships are key to success.

"I tell our staff, we're going to train you so well that everybody is going to want to hire you, but we're going to treat you so well that you won't ever want to go," Rosie says.

Rosie's years of education, training, skills development and relationship building were put to the test at the outset of the pandemic. With clinical trials suspended, Rosie helped in the development of the STOPCov Study, a decentralized study protocol to assess immunity to COVID vaccines in elderly patients.

"Rosie always loves a challenge, and although exhausted by the experience, took on this project with poise, expertise and creativity," Dr. Walmsley says.

Anita Sengar, Manager, UHN Research Ethics Services, calls Rosie "one of the most reliable and knowledgeable people I have ever had the privilege of working with.

"She is proud to contribute to moving research forward in any way possible and is always willing to lend a helping hand," Anita says. "Whether it was caring for patients or a helping a colleague, Rosie was always there."

As she leaves UHN, Rosie is confident she will have no shortage of things to do. She's going to launch a consulting business, continue singing with her church choir and find lots to keep her busy in her multiple roles as daughter, wife, mother and friend.

"It's still going to be about people and relationships," Rosie says. "If I sit around waiting for things to come to me, then I'm going to be bored and sad.

"But I've never been one to sit around."

A tea to celebrate the career of Rosemarie Clarke will be held Wednesday, Aug. 30 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the DeGasperis Conservatory on the 4 th floor at Toronto General Hospital.

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