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5/11/2020 3:00 AM

Mike VillenueveThe World Health Organization declared 2020 the International year of the Nurse and Midwife. In Canada, National Nurses Week takes place in the second week of May. During all the pressures and uncertainty of COVID-19, we have relied on nurses at the front lines of healthcare more than ever before – in these stories, we celebrate our staff, friends, and partners who have chosen this heroic life of sacrifice and service.

“I am a nurse,” said Mike Villeneuve, CEO of the Canadian Nurses Association. “A lot of people volunteer to find that spirit of service, but I found a career where I could serve, teach, and help others – and be paid for it. It all fit for me.”

Mike Villeneuve graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Toronto. His first role was in neurosurgery at Sunnybrook, and he kept that focus for almost 20 years, including a Masters degree completed in 1993. He took a pause to reevaluate in 1999 when he was let go, and was preparing himself to return to healthcare delivery when a colleague, the Federal Chief Nurse, invited him to join her in Ottawa.

“I was completely unprepared to be the senior policy advisor in the Office of Nursing Policy,” admitted Mike, “but what my colleague wanted was someone who was immersed in the angst of the front line, based in practice, and who could think on his feet. That was me.” After nearly another 20 years in policy, he was invited to the Canadian Nurses Association in 2017.

“I’m not sure that nursing skills translate directly to the corporate world,” Mike said, “I mean, I might have been better prepared with an MBA. What nursing training does do is help you look people in the eye and ask what’s wrong. Something’s wrong. Are you in pain? The relationship side of business, leadership, networking… it’s all much easier following a career in nursing.”

However, when we talk about patient safety incidents and system errors – especially his own patient safety incident, medication administered to the wrong patient, which continues to plague him 35 years later – nurses play such a major role. “Ultimately, we are the last line of defense,” Mike said. “We know when we should slow down, when we should listen – and, in 1985, I didn’t.”

Mike’s concern is that nurses are facing heightened levels of stress, demand, and in some places a lack of support every day during the pandemic.

“I would just like to wish all nurses a great National Nurses Week,” he concluded. “We never thought the Year of the Nurse would be like this – we’re talking about washing your hands like Florence Nightingale did in 1854! So I just want to thank every single nurse, across Canada and around the world for the courage of their work in this pandemic.”

The Canadian Patient Safety Institute honours the efforts of all nurses – indeed, all healthcare providers – across Canada and around the world. Have you thanked a nurse today?