Your Association: Reflecting on the past and looking forward to the future

Talk Tuesday - October 27, 2020


Mary Smith RN MN, Outgoing Executive Director

Mary has extensive experience in healthcare administration, leadership, research, education, policy, and clinical practice with hands on experience leading groups through complex change and empowering others in the achievement of a shared vision.  

Previously, Mary was an assistant professor in the Department of Nursing at Brandon University. Prior to this she held a variety of positions such as Vice President Programs and Services, Southern Health-Santé Sud, public health practice leader, women’s health program leader and client services manager for Healthy Living Programs, RHA – Central. Mary’s background also includes roles as intervention coordinator for the Manitoba Heart Health Program, public health nurse in remote northern communities, and surgical intensive care nurse in a larger urban centre. She has a masters of nursing, advanced practice leadership from the University of Victoria and a bachelor of science in nursing from the University of Western Ontario. 

Dr. Cheryl Cusack RN Phd, Incoming Executive Director

Cheryl’s most recent work experience is with Manitoba Health, Seniors & Active Living, where she has been in the role of acting executive director and senior public health nursing practice advisor and provincial practice leader. Past work experiences include teaching in Bachelor of Nursing and registered psychiatric nursing programs; nursing management; regional and government public health and nursing leadership; and direct care. Cheryl holds an inter-disciplinary PhD and a Master of Nursing. Professional and research interests include nursing role advancement, health equity, public health workforce development, and inter-professional collaboration. Cheryl is a long-standing member of the Community Health Nurses of Canada (CHNC). She is the current president, and has held positions on the board as treasurer, provincial representative, and chaired multiple CHNC standing committees. 


In this special Talk Tuesday, we say goodbye to retiring executive director Mary Smith and welcome incoming executive director Cheryl Cusack.

We’ll be reflecting on the Association’s past and looking forward to the future. Mary will share the highlights of her leadership journey, and the accomplishments the Association and its members have achieved together. This will also be an excellent opportunity for you to get to know Cheryl and her vision for the future.

Question and answer 

1. Do you have a favourite role that you’ve held or a favourite lesson from a specific role?

Mary: They’ve all been my favourite, if that’s possible! They’ve all led me to this role and I’ve learned great lessons from every role I’ve been in. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is the importance of relationships. Being honest and transparent and trying to figure out a positive way to interact, particularly when there is a challenging conversation to be had.
Cheryl: The job that I learned the most from and that impacted me the most was working on the Downtown East Side in Vancouver. I’m happy that I had that experience and it was what helped me to move forward in the rest of the work I've done. It has actually influenced almost everything I’ve done.

2. For Mary: Do you have any particular hopes or dreams for the Association? What are you most proud of about your executive director role?

  • I want to start by saying how excited I am for you Cheryl and for the Association to have you in this role. I believe you are going to accomplish great things in concert with the team, the board and the members. I’m very excited about it!
  • One of the things that I really hope is that every single nurse in the province, regardless of their nursing designation sees value and benefit of being a member of a professional association because that’s what we work for every day. We try to demonstrate the value of what the Association can do. Not only for individual nurses but for the discipline and profession of nursing. To do the advocacy work that has been started and will grow, we have to have that strength in numbers, we have to have our members’ support.
  • I feel very lucky about the relationships I’ve been able to develop with partners, members and stakeholders. There are amazing nurses in Manitoba, such knowledgeable skilled individuals. I learn so much with each interaction and I will carry that with me. I hope that I'm able to cross paths with people I’ve had the good fortune to meet.

3. For Cheryl: What are you most curious or excited about having had a few days with the team at the Association?

The first few days have been so exciting but the team is amazing. It’s small, but the work that they do is amazing and they’re upbeat and happy and it just seems like a great place to work so that’s exciting. In the short time I’ve been here what’s exciting is the advocacy opportunities that the Association can move forward. Advocacy and public policy, that’s what is the most exciting. To be able to bring forward and highlight nursing as a profession.

4. Cheryl it’s exciting to hear you talk about nurses as leaders and at decision-making tables. Are you planning to join up with any person or organization related to this goal?

Building on Mary’s answer I plan to emphasize the importance of collaboration and continuing to work with specialty groups and other key stakeholders in nursing to be able to continue this work. We’ll continue to work with CNA and our board and our member committees.

5. I'm so glad that you’re a PhD prepared nurse, it’s rare and we need more research to advance practice. How much time do you realistically think you’ll be able to dedicate to research and advancing practice, 25%? More? Less? Do you think that there might be research opportunities related to COVID-19?

That’s a difficult question to answer. Going back to the organizational goals...probably less than 25%. 25% is quite high, but I also see the opportunity to collaborate with others on research. There are opportunities there and to showcase research. And yes, I think there are a ton of research opportunities related to COVID-19. There is so much to know and learn and certainly we want to share that with members too.

6. Cheryl, what can we as members do to support you in your new role?

This is a great question, thanks for raising it. What comes to mind is just engagement with the Association, we need to be talking, we need to be connecting. The Association really does want to represent members and to do that we need to connect. The ideal goal would be that 100% of nurses in Manitoba are members of the Association. As a collective we need to support the Association and as we engage with members we need to continue working together. Together we can accomplish more and it’s clear how far the Association has come in a really short time and I just want to continue to build so we do become known as the professional voice of nurses and valued for that role in the same way that other professionals are valued for their knowledge and skill.