A Family Tradition: Three Generations of Nursing Care

Donna McLeod, Shelley McLeod-Garner and Michelle King share something beyond genes. The grandmother, mother and daughter are all registered nurses living in Duncan and all share a passion for helping others. Although there are many types of nursing, the three generations of women have all followed the same career path, working directly at the bedside caring for patients. 

It was Donna, 80, who began the family tradition when she started her nursing career in 1963, following in her sister’s footsteps. Throughout her 41-year career, Donna worked in 10 hospitals across the country, from Montréal to Victoria, providing all levels of patient care from medical and surgical floors to the Intensive Care Unit.

“I finally decided that I wanted to be more ‘hands on’ so that I could spend quality time with my patients and less time watching IV’s,” Donna said. “I settled into Long-Term Care nursing where I got to meet elderly people from every walk of life and be part of their care and healing. For me, this was the most gratifying part of my career.”

After a varied nursing career, Shelley, 56, now works at the Hemodialysis clinic in Duncan. Acknowledging the many challenges associated with the profession – long hours, shift work and sometimes difficult patients, Shelley says becoming a nurse was about more than following her mother’s career path.

"I was actually going to become a physiotherapist but quickly learned that it wasn’t a good fit and gravitated towards nursing. It was my calling.”

Michelle, 25, also didn’t plan on becoming a nurse. She says the urge to have a meaningful career that fulfilled her led her down the same path as her mother and grandmother.

“I liked the variety of work that nursing offered and originally thought I might work in public health or social work, but during school I became interested in the medical side of nursing,” said Michelle. “I like working on the medical floor at Cowichan District Hospital caring for patients who have cardiac, respiratory, kidney and liver conditions. It feels like I’m truly making a difference in their lives. It is such a privilege to be there for another human at their greatest time in need, and contrary to my mother and grandmother, I actually don’t mind the shift work!”

Nursing is indeed a family affair, and for Michelle this even includes her boyfriend, who she met during university, and whose mother is also a nurse. Michelle and her boyfriend graduated together and work on the same floor at Cowichan District Hospital.

“I feel like nurses understand and respect one another, as we care for very sick patients undergoing treatments, offer pain relief for people healing from surgeries and comfort those fighting for their life,” said Michelle. “There is so much variety - some days can be really rough and emotional, while other days are amazing and celebratory.”
The three generations of women like to swap stories about their career. “One time we were sitting down to a family meal and the three of us started talking about the worst burns and wounds we had encountered,” said Shelley. “I looked up from the conversation and my poor husband and step-son had a very green pallor. Apparently some things shouldn’t be discussed during dinner.”

All three women responded in the same way when asked what they enjoy most about the career they eventually chose: It is the reward of making a difference in a patient’s life, to be part of their healing and to witness how resilient people are, even when they may be going through a horrific time.

“All of us are compassionate and love helping people,” said Donna. “I am just so proud of my daughter and granddaughter because they are beautiful people with loving hearts.”

Each year we celebrate National Nursing Week as a way to recognize the important role that nurses play in our health and wellness. This year’s theme for May 9-15 is "We Answer the Call" – a theme that was developed by the Canadian Nurses Association to showcase the many roles that nurses play in a patient’s health-care journey. The pandemic brought to light the courage and commitment that nurses work under every day and showed the important role that nurses play in the community.

This National Nursing Week we honour the hard work and commitment of all of Island Health’s nurses.

Central/North Island media inquiries
Dominic Abassi

Cowichan/South Island media inquiries:
Andrew Leyne