Leaders with nursing backgrounds helping to shape health care system of tomorrow

Island Health’s leadership team is comprised of people with a variety of skills and experiences – and many of these dedicated leaders began their careers at the frontline of healthcare as nurses.

Island Health Board Chair Leah Hollins was a rural public health nurse in southern Saskatchewan, later teaching at the same school of nursing from where she had graduated. She accepted leadership positions in hospitals and with the Province of British Columbia, becoming recognized for being the very first provincial Deputy Minister who was also a nurse. Hollins later accepted a board position with Canadian Blood Services before being appointed head of Island Health’s board of directors in 2017.


“I am proud to be involved with an organization that cares for people, no matter what the role,” said Hollins. “Nurses have broad educations and understand many aspects of health care delivery – as leaders, their voices are important to help others grasp the importance of listening to patients and clients in a variety of settings.”

Alice Gelpke, Executive Director, Cowichan District Hospital Replacement Project was initially a nurse at West Coast General Hospital in Port Alberni. Her decision to seek leadership roles was spurred by an interest in helping to improve the health care system, the work lives of care providers, and the patient/family experience.


“My work as a nurse and my early days as a manager has been foundational to my role as a senior leader in Island Health,” said Gelpke. “While caring for patients and their families at their most vulnerable times, I learned the importance of teamwork in terms of support, and how we complemented one another, in addition to being one part of a larger system while remaining connected to the rest of the system.”

Though she is Island Health’s head accountant, Kim Kerrone, Vice President Support Services & Chief Financial Officer began her career as a frontline nurse at BC Children’s Hospital, an experience that has served her well as a leader.


“A background in nursing or other health care profession makes you a compassionate leader. Nurses are always thinking about what is best for patients, families, and communities,” she said. “As a nurse, you see the life-changing struggles patients and families experience, and how caring professionals can make such a difference.  Nursing education has also equipped me to become a system thinker, and as a leader having a system-wide view of things is very helpful.”

Shelley Gallant, Executive Director, Clinical Operations, Community/Primary Care Central Access, Home Health Care, End of Life, Seniors Strategy chose to become a nurse out of a desire to help others and work in a profession that aligned with her core values of making a difference, humility, empathy and caring. She helped to deliver hundreds of babies as a labour and delivery nurse at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, and still uses the nursing processes that became ingrained to help her guide decision making as a senior leader.


“My nursing background has helped me recognize issues at the frontline that impact individuals, families and populations - the human aspect of healthcare motivates me to do better as a leader,” she said. “It is especially important to have the unique perspective that nurses bring to leadership tables. Nursing leadership is helping to shape the health care system of the future.”

Max Jajszczok, Executive Director, Centre & North Island Community Hospitals and Rural Remote Operations and Strategy, followed in the footsteps of several family members who were also nurses. After providing care on hospital wards and within intensive care and cardiac care units in Calgary, Alberta, Jajszczok was inspired to become a health care leader to positively shape the delivery of health and care services for patients.


“I am so honoured to work alongside all of my engaged colleagues to ensure that patients and families receive the best care possible,” he said. “Nurses play a significant role as frontline care providers, interacting daily with patients and families within the health care system. As leaders, we offer key perspectives that help to guide the core clinical business of a health authority. These valuable insights, based on our previous experiences and often advanced education, are aimed at fostering a health system that offers sustainable, high quality, person-centred care.”

Sharon Torgerson, Vice President, People is committed to supporting Island Health employees to achieve excellence in health and care, but years prior to her role as a human resource executive, she was a dedicated nurse at Foothills Hospital in Calgary and Vancouver General Hospital who worked in orthopedics, gynecology, and mental health.


“As a nurse, I saw firsthand how effective leadership positively impacts the quality of patient care and staff engagement,” she said. “Further, my experience as a care provider helps me ask questions about the impact of decisions at the frontline of healthcare. Nurses understand the complexity of the system of care which is essential to highlight when solutions to issues are being explored. Nurses have long been known for their advocacy for patients. This voice is more vital than ever.”

Our thanks to all of the dedicated nurses who provide care and leadership across Island Health to ensure excellent health and care for everyone, everywhere, every time.