Marion Dowling, P.E.I.’s top nurse, set her sights on this caring profession at a very young age.
“I always said I wanted to be a nurse while I was growing up as a kid,’’ she says.
“I just wanted to do that work.’’
Dowling has successfully embraced a range of both clinical and, later, administrative roles since graduating from the first class of the bachelor of science degree program in nursing from UPEI in 1996.
The variety of experience prepared her well for her current demanding role (she has been chief of nursing, allied health and patient experience since July 2016) – a job that has grown exponentially more challenging since a global pandemic became the focus of health-care systems around the world with Prince Edward Island being no exception.
“Marion’s career has provided her with a range of experience that inform the valuable perspectives she draws upon to fulfil her current roles,’’ says Health P.E.I. CEO Denise Lewis Fleming.
“From working in a rural community hospital to an urban acute care hospital, to her work developing nursing policy during her time as a policy consultant with the Department of Health and Wellness, she has developed a strong understanding of the full health system.’’
Fleming says Dowling takes a collaborative approach to her work, leveraging the strengths of the people around her, building a network of individuals who she can go to in order to draw on their leadership, advice and perspectives when she runs into challenges.
“Marion has done an excellent job leading the Joint Response Team,’’ adds Fleming.
“As she has guided the JRT, she has also engaged other key stakeholders, including myself and the chief public health officer (Dr. Heather Morrison), to assist with any hurdles that needed to be overcome as well as ensure we are all aligning our efforts to be best prepared to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.’’
Dowling has certainly felt the strain of not only playing a key role in dealing with the pandemic but in having to do so in such a public way.
Over the past few months, she has become a household name on P.E.I., sitting nearby Morrison in briefing after briefing, with thousands of Islanders tuning in on their television sets or computers.
The limelight is not her comfort zone.
“I don’t do as well being in front of the camera … but I try to do my best,’’ she says.
“I try to be as authentic and as open with information as I can be.’’
The big balancing act for Dowling has been in preparing the health-care system for a possible outbreak of COIVD-19 at the cost of slowing or temporarily stopping a range of health services to Islanders.
The work has been emotionally draining and time-consuming.
She has had far less time at home in Stratford for her husband, Steve, who is the director of Consumer, Corporate and Financial services division with the province, and the couple’s daughters Sarah, 10, and Laura, 7.
“(The girls) are looking for my time, and they don’t necessarily understand why I have to keep going to work every day when they are home,’’ she says.
“I missed them, and they were missing me.’’
Even with her ongoing heavy role, Dowling has no regrets for choosing nursing as a career.
“It’s given me great opportunities to do many things,’’ she says.
“I love being a nurse.’’
Dowling grew up in Morell, one of four children to Sandy and Louise Clark, immersed in a caring environment that clearly made an impression on her.
Her father was a principal most of his career, but when he retired, he worked for years as a minister of the United Church. Her mother ended a run as a medical lab technologist to raise four children but would go on to run the local rink for more than 30 years.
“They were very much part of the small community – great place to grow up, really,’’ says Dowling.
“Everyone was interested in how everyone was doing and supported one another … people would rally together to support different events or to build a small village or getting a park organized.’’
Much of Dowling’s community involvement has been in sport.
The athletic woman played hockey and ringette for years, including playing on the Canadian ringette team.
She has coached ringette at two Canada Games and was assistant coach of the Canadian ringette team.
She is currently coaching her daughters and their ringette team.
One girl on the team, Dowling recalls with a chuckle, wondered why she was on TV talking about COVID-19 when her job is to coach ringette.
Well, it appears the chief of nursing is truly in great demand.