After 45 years at St. Joseph’s Hospital, two nurses say their job is not work
In the days before dads were allowed into the delivery room at St. Joseph’s Hospital in London, Doris Smith had a devoted and determined young father-to-be handcuff himself to the stretcher to ensure he was at the bedside when his wife gave birth.
In the intensive care unit, Donna Strangio recalls a patient going into cardiac arrest. “I turned and thumped him on the chest when that was the ‘cool’ thing to do. He reverted into rhythm. Now we don’t thump.”
After 45 years at the bedside, the memories for these two registered nurses are captivating - many as vivid as the day they took place. They were just 20 years old when they first walked through the doors of St. Joseph’s Hospital to begin their nursing careers. Today they are the longest-serving staff members being honoured by St. Joseph’s Health Care London at this year’s Evening of Celebration on Oct. 19 for those who have reached career milestones with St. Joseph’s.
Every year, St. Joseph's recognizes the dedication and commitment of staff, physicians and volunteers who have reached milestones of 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 and more years of service. This year more than 700 recipients who have given up to 45 years of service to our organization are being recognized.
While their rewarding careers have had many twists and turns bringing them to various care areas, today Doris and Donna can be found working side-by-side in the Surgical Day Care Unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Both talk about careers they love, friendships they have forged and patients who continue to make it all worthwhile.
“I’ve always told my four children that when you have a job you enjoy, it’s not work,” says Donna. “And that’s how I feel about St. Joseph’s.”
Interestingly, Donna had her sights set on becoming a teacher but by Grade 12 she was antsy to move on from high school. She discovered she could skip Grade 13 by applying to nursing school. She was accepted. “My marks soared and I never looked back.”
Graduating from St. Joseph’s School of Nursing in Guelph in 1972, jobs were scarce, particularly for young grads with no experience, recalls Donna. She was offered a position in the hemodialysis unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital in London. Exposed only to peritoneal (abdominal) dialysis in nursing school, “one can imagine my surprise to see all the blood lines when I walked in for my first day of work.”
In the years that followed, Donna would move to the intensive care unit and then delivery room and antenatal unit before returning to hemodialysis in 1981, where she remained until the unit closed in 2001. She moved to the dialysis unit at University Hospital on a trial basis but returned “home” to St. Joseph’s a year later to work in surgical services. “This is where I wanted to be.”
Both Doris and Donna have lived the transformations of St. Joseph’s Hospital. Donna remembers when there were more than 15 nursing wards (now there is one), a nursing workforce that was predominantly under age 30, and the white clinic shoes, uniforms and caps nurses wore.
“Time does fly,” adds Doris, who graduated from St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing and has been here ever since. Most of her career has been helping to bring babies into the world. She chose to remain at St. Joseph’s when the perinatal program transferred to London Health Sciences Centre in 2011, switching to surgical services instead.
Like Donna, Doris refers to St. Joseph’s as “home.” Going from nursing school to a remarkable 45-year career at St. Joseph’s, “I never left home,” she says. “And when you decide to stay in one area for so long it becomes a work family, sharing daily joys and sadness. I still have friendships with several people I started work with. We still have laughs over things we remember.”
As a young nurse, the hospital seemed “so big with so many staff,” says Doris. “There was much to learn but many experienced nurses to help along the way.”
In addition to eventually allowing fathers into the delivery room, another shift that stands out for Doris is how staff grew in caring for families who had lost infants. “We went from shielding parents to a healthier approach in their care.”
The Sisters of St. Joseph were always a steady presence,” adds Doris. “This really made the atmosphere have an extra healing, comforting, compassionate air. You always felt the dignity within these walls. After 45 years, that feeling remains.”