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It is common at UHN for staff to refer to their teams as family, to say that their colleagues are a big part of what they love about working for the organization.
This couldn't be truer for Shelley Malton, Business Unit Manager for the Morton and Gloria Shulman Movement Disorders Centre at Toronto Western Hospital's (TW) Krembil Neuroscience Centre. On Friday, after 27 years with the team, Shelley is retiring.
"I've been like the mother of the unit," Shelley says. "With staff here for many years, there have been many ups and downs in everybody's lives – I've gone through many boxes of tissues!"
The Movement Disorders family was small when it was founded in the late 1980s. But in the nearly three decades since Shelley joined in December 1990, that nuclear team grew from four members to an extended family of about 50 today.
And throughout, Shelley's door was always open when anyone needed a sympathetic ear.
"I think that was definitely the best part of the job," she says. "Being able to listen to people and trying to help."
Sitting in her office on a recent cold January day, it hadn't quite sunk in to Shelley that she is on a countdown to a new chapter in her life. Now 72, she has reincarnated her career more than a few times since she started working at the age of 17.
Healthcare became her career of choice
Shelley also trained as a human services counselor after going back to school at age 40. She worked in London, England for 10 years and was working in market research before she took up a career in healthcare administration.
"I was laid off from my market research job," Shelley recounts. "I figured staff would always be needed in healthcare – doctors need assistants – and decided to try to find a job there."
Thanks to biological family – a cousin – Shelley was put in touch with UHN's Human Resources Department and was soon told of an opportunity for a physician's assistant at TW.
"I met with Dr. Anthony Lang and the rest is history," she says of the last boss of her career, who is director of the Movement Disorders Program.
Just like her career, Shelley's role with the movement disorders team evolved many times over the years. She started out as Dr. Lang's administrative assistant.
"He's been a good boss 98 per cent of the time," she jokes, adding that she got a kick out of Dr. Lang's sense of humour, often sending him funny email jokes just to see what kind of reaction she'd get.
Her responsibilities as assistant soon morphed into managing the business of the unit as it expanded and the family grew. She also took on coordinating the movement disorders fellowship program – the largest in the world – dealing with the mountains of paperwork necessary to bring trainees to the internationally recognized centre.
'It's time for a break'
"I've processed 81 fellowship applicants for the unit," she says. "I have made lots of friends all over the world and now have the time to go visit them."
With growth came the need for more space and Shelley managed several moves for the department. The team was originally housed in the building next to the Leonard Street Parking lot when it was still part of TW, before moving several times within the hospital's Main Pavilion.
"First we had half a floor, then a full floor, then we expanded to two floors and also moved temporarily so the original floor could be renovated," she says ruefully. "All I can say is that I was never bored and never had a time when there was nothing to do in this job."
But now, after all these years as the manager and figurative mother of the team, Shelley knows it's time to move on.
"It feels like the right time, and it's time for a break," she says. "But it's such a fantastic group and we're all so close – I've been so much a part of the team's growth that it's hard to leave it behind."
Though she professes to need a break, Shelley has many plans for retirement: travel, writing a book about life experiences, learning Spanish and continuing with Zumba classes, which she enjoys. She also plans to come back to visit her second family, not content to just walk off with great memories.
"It's been an enjoyable and happy 27 years," she says smiling. "They were interesting, productive and fun."