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Grit, determination fuel 39-year career of OR clinical manager

'I worked with wonderful people, and used my passion and ability to focus on helping others succeed in their own way,' says Ruth Peters.
Ruth Peters worked for Niagara Health for 39 years and had significant impact on patient care during her career. She retired March 28. 

Ask Ruth Peters what advice she has for someone starting their career and she’ll tell you not to worry too much about how the story will end.

“Take a step,” says the Clinical Manager of the Welland Hospital Operating Room (OR). “You don’t have to know the end from the beginning because it will probably be different than what you think.”

Peters, who also oversees the day surgery unit, post-anesthetic recovery room and pre-admission clinic in Welland, knows that better than most.

When she was faced with choosing a career after high school, her brother convinced her to go into nursing. Peters was the daughter of missionaries who travelled the world. She lived in the Democratic Republic of Congo until she was 10, and her teen years were divided between California, Saskatchewan, Quebec and Niagara.

All those moves gave her some serious wanderlust and nursing seemed to be the cure. She could see the world and support herself at the same time.

But then the end turned out much differently than what Peters or her brother would have predicted all those years ago.

“I went into nursing and I worked in one place for 39 years,” she says with a laugh.

"I worked with wonderful people, and used my passion and ability to focus on helping others succeed in their own way. I look forward to what will come after retirement. The world is an inspiring place when people work together to make it better.”  

Her travel agent’s loss turned out to be Niagara Health’s gain. Peters was hired in 1985 as a nurse at the former Hotel Dieu Hospital in St. Catharines, where she worked part-time, balancing mom life with work life. Soon after, she found her place in the Intensive Care Unit where she stayed for 18 years before getting certified in post-anesthetic care and the operating room, then moving to the Urodynamic Clinic.

All the while, Peters honed her leadership skills, culminating with becoming Clinical Manager of the OR, day surgery unit, pre-admission clinic and minor OR in 2016. She simultaneously started working toward her master's degree in leadership, which she earned in 2021.

Surgical innovation proved to be her strength as she led the implementation of the Anterior Hip Early Ambulation and Discharge program, which shortened the time a patient needed to spend in hospital. She also helped found the Ambulatory Procedure Unit Gynecology Clinic, which meant greater care for women’s health close to home.

“Nursing was the right choice for me,” Peters says. “I worked with wonderful people, and used my passion and ability to focus on helping others succeed in their own way. I look forward to what will come after retirement. The world is an inspiring place when people work together to make it better.”  

Here are some other reflections on her long and storied career:

What are your proudest career achievements?

As a nurse, I was very proud of my work in intensive care. I absolutely loved it. Care, compassion combined with intense medical or surgical treatment regimes challenged me to keep learning. I worked with a fantastic team at the Hotel Dieu Hospital in St. Catharines.

My second proudest achievement was becoming a clinical manager of the inpatient surgical unit at the Welland Site in 2011. It was probably the hardest year of my life in Year One, but it was also very satisfying. The charge nurses and the unit council chair really had my back. I enjoyed working with the managers and directors at the Welland Site, we worked collaboratively to make it a great place for patients and for the providers. So, No. 1, ICU nursing; No. 2, becoming a clinical manager. I kind of wished my dad had been around. He would've been proud of that.

Looking back, what are some of your fondest memories?

When I became manager of the Endoscopy Unit, I had a student from Brock who wanted to do some public health impact work. The idea was born and the nurses in endo jumped at the chance to bring the Giant Colon to the Pen Centre. It was super fun and we reached a lot of people about colon screening.

I also really enjoyed working with the ophthalmologists here in Welland. we worked for over a year with Lions’ Eye Care, going with different staff members and surgeons to the various regional Lions Clubs. We would talk about our work and raised $100,000 for a new microscope in Welland.

Another highlight was starting up the Ambulatory Procedure Unit Gynecology Clinic. That was a huge highlight of mine. I went back for my master's degree in leadership, and I did this for my final project and I shared it with my director who said, ‘Yeah, it's a great idea.’ Then it kind of sat on the shelf and when the Surgical Innovation funding came across my director's desk, she said, ‘What could we do with this money?’ I said, ‘Well, could we do this project?’ She said, ‘Absolutely, let's do it.’ The plan was already vetted. We presented it to everyone and we went with it. So that was a huge achievement of mine that I'm quite proud of, especially for the fact that we opened on International Women's Day, March 8, 2022.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you've had to overcome?

Kind of a challenge and a fond memory was when SARS happened. I was still an ICU nurse and I volunteered to come to Welland to be part of the SARS team. It’s a fond memory because I met Maggie Holmes, who was the icon of a charge nurse in ICU, It introduced me to Welland as a great place to work.

Another big challenge of my career was that first year of being a clinical manager in Welland. I had a three-day handover from the outgoing manager. The expected reports were significant as well as the request for quality improvement from the staff for both the patients and the providers. What got me through was the strong collaboration with the Permanent Charge nurses and the Unit Council Chair, we had each others’ backs and brought quality to the unit with grass roots action.

What's next for you?

I see retirement as stepping stones across the stream for me. The other side of that stream is filled with local living, family, gardening, friends. And if time allows it, I will do some healthcare consulting.

What advice would you have for somebody just starting their career in healthcare?

It's a great career that offers a vast variety of opportunity. It takes a lot of grit and determination. If you find it isn’t working well, move to a different unit, a different aspect of healthcare to find your fit. I moved around a bit and enjoyed the many wonderful people whose lives connected with mine for a brief time, or over many years. It's really been amazing.

Tiffany Mayer is a communications specialist at Niagara Health.