I come from a family of medical women.

Like most women my age, the medical women in my life were nurses. My father’s sister, my mother’s sister and sister-in-law, my own sister and her daughter are all nurses. At the time I became a doctor, my mother’s sister and sister-in-law were still nursing full time and they had a great influence on me. In the past few weeks, I have been thinking of them a great deal.

My mother’s sister-in-law was trained as a nurse at what was then the Ottawa Civic Hospital and her sister, my Aunt Ursula, was trained at the Lorrain School of Nursing at the Pembroke General Hospital, the forerunner to Algonquin College’s Nursing Program at its Pembroke Campus.

Both my aunts were disappointed that I never wanted to become a nurse, but they were always proud to introduce me to their colleagues when I was working in their hospital or met them at work for lunch or coffee.

They taught me many things about medicine, but right now, as we worry about the issue of Personal Protective Equipment for front line health professionals, one lesson stands out vividly in my mind.

When I graduated from Medicine, they each gave me a lab coat with my name embroidered on it. Then, they each gave me a lecture that could save my life in the weeks to come. They taught me and showed me how to wash those lab coats – or any of the clothing I wear to work where infection control is so important.

They both detailed for me how to wash and bleach the lab coat to be sure to disinfect it. There is no one more dangerous, they told me, than a doctor in a dirty lab coat.

My mother’s sister-in-law, a nurse in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, told me sternly, “No one wants to see the doctor coming in from the parking lot in their lab coat. It shows that he (sigh) doesn’t appreciate all the trouble the nurses are taking to keep infection from spreading.”

My Aunt, a Paediatric Head Nurse at the Pembroke General Hospital, had this warning, “The first thing the head nurse is going to look at are your cuffs. Wash that coat and scrub the dirty spots, especially the cuffs until they are WHITE. Never wear that coat outside the hospital. Let the nurses know that you understand basic protection from infectious disease and they will respect you.”

I can see them in front of me right now – I can hear their warnings. They were amazing at their work and a strong example to me of the duty and diligence nursing staff expects from a doctor. I hope I live up to their expectations in the next few months.

I still understand their lesson about protection from infection. I have been wearing clothing to work for the past 3 weeks that can be washed daily. Everyone else can hoard toilet paper and hand sanitizer – I have bleach in case I need it.

(This is a picture of my Aunt’s Graduation Class. She is on the left in the front row. Today she would have graduated from Algonquin College, where I serve as a Governor.)

As well as the nurses in my family, I am also thinking of all the nurses I work with and will work with. Please know that you are always teaching me something I need to know.

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