Ten years ago, Lianne McLean was working full-time as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) while completing the Post-LPN Bachelor of Nursing program online through Athabasca University (AU).
Today, she is the Program Manager of Rare Diseases and Blood Disorders at the University Health Network (UHN) in Toronto, Ont.—working at the Toronto General Hospital, which was recently recognized in a global ranking as the number four hospital in the world.
In less than a decade, the 2020 Rising Star Alumni Award winner went from working in a front-line, junior position at the Misericordia Hospital in Edmonton, Alta., moving through progressively responsible leadership roles to reach her current position.
“There are eight programs in total I’m responsible for and I have employees from eight different health professions reporting to me,” McLean said. “It’s a completely different role than the one I was in 10 years ago.”
Drawn to nursing
After she finished high school, McLean completed an LPN diploma program and very quickly found work in her field. She quickly realized she would want to continue with her studies, but wouldn’t want to stop working full time, so she looked into AU’s post-LPN nursing program.
She had set this plan before completing the required number of on-the-job hours as an LPN, and determinedly worked toward it, completing electives prior to even being accepted as a program student.
“The flexibility of Athabasca, to be able to do it on weekends—or because I was working 12 hour shifts at that time, to do it on your days off—is something I couldn’t have done in a traditional university where you have classes on specific days of the week,” McLean said.
She found that working full time while going to school, as it turned out, was a perfect complement to her course work.
“In my assignments, I think they were more meaningful to me and I had a rich ability to contribute to my assignments because I could see how the healthcare system was working because I was involved with it every day,” she said.
After finishing her degree with AU, McLean got a position as a critical care nurse and was soon promoted to manager of that unit. But the desire to keep learning hadn’t gone away, and she registered for a master of nursing program at the University of Alberta.
She again worked in the hospital setting while completing her studies and finished the master’s degree in 2016, but this time found it more challenging to fit her work schedule around her bricks-and-mortar school schedule.
“I felt it was important for me to go back to more of an in-class setting for my graduate degree, so I had that full range of experiences,” she said. “But it was definitely more challenging in terms of the scheduling and rigid deadlines.”
Yet despite the challenges, McLean thrived in that program—winning awards and accolades including the Alberta Registered Nurses Educational Trust Scholarship and the Ruth Isabel Barth Award of Nursing Excellence.
“Ten years ago, when I was working on my degree through AU, I never would have imagined where my career would take me.”– Lianne McLean
Onward, upward, and eastward
With graduate credentials in hand, McLean’s career and family took her to Toronto in 2017, where she has held leadership positions at both Humber River Hospital and UHN.
During her time in Toronto, McLean has had the opportunity to lead innovative quality improvement projects, such as a Peer to Peer Patient Support program for patients undergoing bariatric surgery.
She has also supported the development of the GoodHope Ehlers-Danlos Program, a first-of-its-kind initiative to serve patients living with this debilitating condition. Under her leadership this program has grown into an interdisciplinary team that is making significant contributions in research and establishing care guidelines.
“I couldn’t have done it all by myself if the Ontario Health Ministry hadn’t decided it was something they wanted to invest in, but I got the opportunity to grow and develop the program which has been a great experience,” McLean said.
She also gives back to the community by serving on the board of directors for the Black Creek Community Health Centre, a health centre dedicated to supporting patients’ primary healthcare needs. She said this has been a great opportunity to be a part of community care and primary prevention, as her professional nursing roles have mostly been in acute care.
The future is bright for this AU alumna, who said regardless of where her career leads her in the future, she intends to focus on innovation and quality improvement for patients.
“Ten years ago, when I was working on my degree through AU, I never would have imagined where my career would take me,” McLean said. “I love working on projects that improve patient care and I’m excited to see where my career leads me in the future.”
Learn more about the Alumni Awards and watch short videos about the 2020 winners on the Alumni Awards webpage.