Long service tea featuring Kathy Sabo and two people
TWH Executive Team members Kathy Sabo (left), Sandra Li-James, and Jan Newton celebrate Kathy's 15 years at UHN at the Long Service Tea earlier this month. (Photo: UHN)​

It was an exceptional volunteer experience as a candy-striper at a hospital in her hometown of Kitchener that propelled Kathy Sabo to pursue a career in healthcare.

The next four decades took her through a number of clinical and leadership roles. She started as a pediatric nurse in SickKids' Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), then progressed to director of a number of clinical programs at SickKids, Director of Surgical Services at Humber River Hospital, and eventually to her current role as Senior Vice-President and Executive Lead at UHN's Toronto Western Hospital (TWH.)

At the end of June, after recently celebrating 15 years at UHN, Sabo will move on to her next life chapter: retirement. She recently sat down with UHN News to reflect on her career achievements and her hopes for UHN in the future.

You began your career in a clinical setting as a nurse. What made you decide to pursue positions in healthcare leadership?

I was definitely torn about this shift from the clinical setting to leadership. I loved working with children and their families as a pediatric nurse in the NICU. It was very powerful to witness their resilience in very difficult situations. The catalyst for me was that  I had good mentors at the time who encouraged me to pursue leadership roles, and this was  why I went  back to school part-time to complete my undergraduate degree, and then my Master's in Health Administration.

When you move from a clinical position to an administrative one, you do give up some things only to gain others. I originally became a nurse because I wanted to help people, but there are many ways to do that in healthcare. Being in an administrative role allows me to help influence how patient care is delivered.

What advice do you have for those pursuing a career in healthcare?

I've always been a lifelong learner, and I continued to pursue my education while working full-time. My advice is to plan your education thoughtfully.  I was fortunate to have good mentors throughout my career who helped guide and encourage me along the way. I was able to progress through a variety of leadership positions in different clinical areas. I am a strong believer in building your breadth of experience, as you never know what opportunities will come in the future. I started at UHN as Director of Nursing with a focus on practice, but moved back to operations when the opportunity arose. Every role helped prepare me for the next one, leading me to where I am today.

What are you most proud of from your time at TWH?

There are so many things to be proud of at TWH! But, to list a few, I'm proud of the impact I made on the culture by fostering a strong, caring and collaborative team environment. I'm also proud of working to build a sense of community where staff work together to provide the best care for our patients and their families.

Since arriving in 2001, the spirit of TWH has changed – you feel a real sense of community, passion, caring and collaboration when you walk in to the hospital. I am so proud to have been part of bringing together this team that's connected to a leadership philosophy that fosters team spirit, caring and compassion.

I'm proud of how TWH has evolved and grown over the past 15 years. We have developed many new and expanded programs that ensure better access to our specialized services across our Neurosciences, Arthritis, Medical, Surgical and Critical Care programs. These programs also serve our community in a more comprehensive way through our family health team and primary care integration work.  The extensive redevelopment of the TWH campus has allowed us to provide a higher quality care and work environment for our patients and staff. The redevelopment includes the West and East Wings, the Atrium, the Loretta Ann Rogers Critical Care Unit, Preoperative Care Unit, Post Anesthesia Care Unit, and most recently the Krembil Discovery Tower. There is still more work to do!

I am also proud of the Positive Leadership program that we implemented to foster a strong, consistent leadership philosophy at TWH. My goal with this program was to build knowledge and capacity in our leaders that reflects a positive approach and positive behaviours. Ultimately, it's about encouraging and mentoring staff to provide compassionate and seamless care to our patients through strong teamwork. That caring culture should be evident to anyone visiting TWH. Since it started, we now have 169 graduates from the program working with their staff and colleagues, and we've seen the results through the positive feedback we get from our patients and their families.

What will you miss most about TWH?

I will really miss the people: the many colleagues and friends I have made along my journey here. The spirit of innovation, passion and the real sense of commitment and caring is outstanding.  The calibre of people I have had the privilege to work with every day has been the highlight of my career.

UHN is an amazing place. The opportunities and experiences I've had have shaped me to who I am today, and I'm richer personally and professionally for it. I leave proud of my accomplishments and contributions to both UHN and the health-care system.

 What do you hope to see for TWH and UHN in the future?

UHN is a world leader in health research, education and clinical care. TWH plays a unique role by providing the full spectrum from primary to tertiary and quaternary care.

 It is a strong academic centre anchored in a vibrant and diverse community, that provides world-leading and highly specialized services, along with a strong focus on serving our local community. I hope it maintains that balance.

UHN is focusing more on safety and embarking on a process of organizational renewal at a time where broader health system changes are focused on putting patients first. We are positioned well to lead into the future and build on our successes.   

UHN has always been at the forefront of healthcare because of its ability to be nimble, responsive and push the boundaries of care and discovery. I hope it never loses that spirit of creativity and innovation. I will be watching fondly from afar and know there are still many incredible advances to come from both TWH and UHN in the future.

What's next for you?

I'm excited about the next chapter which starts with a move to Niagara-on-the-Lake next month. I'm looking forward to spending more time with my husband, settling in, enjoying my new community, and continuing to travel. The bucket list is growing! The fall will bring a trip to Italy and I'm planning another to South Africa next year.

Perhaps in the future, I'll be looking for ways to once again contribute to the healthcare system. Hopefully, that will lead me to cross paths again with the many great colleagues I've had over the years.​

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