As someone who has spent much of the past 30+ years focusing on procedures and results in a laboratory, PHSA+ Award winner Michelle Kelsey is very familiar with keen attention to detail. But even her ability to focus was tested over the past 18 months of the pandemic, as she and her team of 250 laboratory technical staff at BC Children’s Hospital and BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre (C&W) worked their way through the many obstacles – and lessons – that COVID-19 offered us all.
“It’s been a really challenging time for everyone since March 2020,” she acknowledges, describing her role as Laboratory Operations Manager. “From dealing with shortages of reagents and testing supplies to ramping up our COVID-19 testing capacity to help meet the needs of the province."
As someone who’s gone out of her way to build relationship outside of her department over the years, the collaboration and problem-solving done with partners like Supply Chain and C&W Campus Operations has given her even more appreciation for the support her team has received.
How did she try to lead her team in the midst of what was often a challenging time for all?
“In the early days, we were all making adjustments on the fly,” she says. “I tried to focus on being as transparent as possible, listening to people’s concerns, and tracking down the most accurate information that I could.”
Her approach during the many long days that she and her staff worked played a role in her ability to support her team. It’s this desire to serve her team that made Michelle a committed – and beloved – leader during her 30+ years at PHSA.
Looking back over a career that saw her start as a BC Cancer Bench Technologist in 1989, Michelle is proud of many things along the way.
“When I think back, one of the things I’m most proud of is the early days of the Cancer Genetics lab where we started the Hereditary Cancer program at BC Cancer,” she says. “It was groundbreaking work that affected the lives of so many families.”
Michelle knows the work done by her team is vital to patients across the province and makes a difference to the outcomes that families live with. Her ability to see the impact that Labs teams have on patients has inspired her for so much of her career.
“I’ve always felt very connected to the patients I was testing for,” Michelle explains.
She’s clear this same patient-focused approach is what helps the Labs team remain so committed to the work they do, despite the fact that many of them don’t get a lot of opportunity to interact directly with patients.
“For our group here, they definitely come to work with a ‘patients come first’ attitude,” she says. “It gives meaning to the work they do and I think it helps us find the resilience to keep going when things get tough.”
When asked what she did to help her team leads and supervisors be as successful as possible during the early days of the pandemic, she credits maintaining her open door policy, leading by example and doing her best to ensure people had what they needed to do their job. “We were all learning together as a group,” she says. “And I tried to encourage everyone. To me, the word itself means ‘giving someone courage, which is important.”
As she winds down towards retirement from PHSA in the next few weeks, Michelle is keen to dive into working with her hands again, after years away from being a hands-on lab technologist.
“I’ve rediscovered my love of woodworking, she says. “My grandfather was a carpenter, but I haven’t had the opportunity to do it for many decades.” She’s started building planter boxes and is also looking forward to spending more time with her family and even a little travel once things settle out.
Michelle is clear that being surrounded with great people has helped in her success throughout her career.
“I have great leaders that work with me in Labs,” she says. “And the C&W campus attracts some of the most amazing, caring people. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to spend more than 30 years with PHSA.”
The PHSA+ Awards are part of an internal recognition program that celebrates teams and individuals who bring our
PHSA values to life in the workplace. They go above and beyond to serve patients and families across B.C. Read about the other
PHSA+ award recipients for 2021.