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Tran Thai gained exposure to several units as an extern and is now a registered nurse in pediatric oncology at Hamilton Health Sciences.Supplied

When she tells people she is a registered nurse in pediatric oncology at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS), Tran Thai is very aware of the response she’ll get. After all, the topic is childhood cancer. But for her, “it’s something I’m very privileged to be part of,” she says.

“Everyone’s first reaction is, that’s very difficult or that’s very tough – and it is,” Thai says. “But one of the greatest things from my experience is, for starters, you have all these patients and families and they’re so kind, even though they’re going through some of the most difficult times. The role you play in supporting them and seeing their progression from diagnosis through treatment, it makes me feel very thankful that we could see that journey. It means a lot.”

And there’s another reason she chose to be part of this unit, she says. “We have such a great, great team environment. No matter who you ask, from the doctors to your fellow nurses to the other members of the professional health-care team, there’s always someone there to support you, always someone there to give their expertise, their advice, and to help you navigate some of the more difficult situations.”

Thai, who graduated from McMaster University in May 2023, works at McMaster Children’s Hospital, just one component of the broad range of services provided by Hamilton Health Sciences at locations around the southwestern Ontario city.

According to Aaron Levo, vice-president, people, culture and communications, HHS is the second-largest hospital system in the province by revenue, trailing only Toronto’s University Health Network, and is unique in Ontario in caring for patients of all ages, from pre-birth to end of life.

“We have an incredible number of opportunities for you to develop in different areas and specialties, whether that’s in clinical service or administrative service,” Levo says. “That scale and breadth gives people a lot to choose from. And the number is growing. We’re in full recruitment mode.”

As a teaching and research hospital, he says, “we’re delivering the care of today, but we’re building the care of tomorrow. We’ve invested heavily in technology, including our patient record system, new diagnostic capabilities and virtual care. That desire to innovate and apply research quickly is an important factor.”

And on the administrative side, he says, “we would be among the largest mission-driven organizations in the country. Whether you’re in finance, human resources, purchasing or IT, it’s an opportunity to make that social contribution with your skills in a sector that desperately needs innovative thinkers in administration.”

HHS is focused on wellness for staff, he says. “We try to practise a style of leadership that acknowledges the toll that health care takes on an individual, to try to provide a team environment that’s supportive. We also have programs at our sites including massage clinics, mindfulness clinics and pet therapy.”

Indeed, HHS is in the midst of training a new special staff member, Hank, a Newfoundland dog who visits employees on site. “When someone’s busy working in a clinical environment, they often do need to take a moment for themselves to compose to think and to restore,” Levo says.

Thai agrees, having worked in various units during her pre-graduation time as an extern at HHS, a program similar to internship. “The current state of affairs in health care is very demanding, but it’s because they have that team support that staff members at HHS can show up each and every day. I’m very grateful that this is my job.”

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