Meet Third Place Winner Denise Morris, UHN

Denise Morris RN

Toronto General Hospital, University Health Network


Denise built the MSICU. No one here, and probably very few in this province, know as much as she does and is as passionate about this work as she is. She is constantly creating best practices and teaching new generations how to be excellent in this field. This pandemic experience has been devastating for all of us and if it hadn’t been for her leadership, many of us would not have made it through with any decent level of good mental health. And when I think of how Denise has had to support those of us who have never been through this type of thing, as well as those of us who were here during SARS…she has carried a tremendous load for all of us. In the beginning there was a lot of fear, as we didn’t know much about what we were facing. Denise held us together with calm and compassion. She sought out the best information available and always made us feel like our safety was her priority. She has created a culture of diligence and respectfulness that really made all the difference in the face of the unknown. We knew we had to rely on each other and that she would always have our back and do what was best, always. The days and nights in the MSICU are really, really tough. There are a lot of really sick people, and therefore a lot of deaths. Denise ensures none of us are experiencing this on our own. Because of the nature of this disease taking care of these patients can be a very isolating experience, and trying to comfort the families who can’t be with their loved ones…it’s hard to explain what that feels like. Denise hasn’t hugged her own parents in almost a year. She would be the first to tell you that this is all about teamwork, she would praise her team and say how grateful she is for all of us. But none of us would still be standing a year into this, without her.

-Clare Fielding, Clinical Nurse Specialist for Critical Care

Denise leads by example. When you think of the impact of this disease on our ICUs, you have to imagine the intense care that is involved. It requires a specialized skill set and a particular resiliency and strength to come in, day in and day out, to care for the very sickest patients. And even though they are highly skilled and committed to the best quality care, they lose patients. The thousands of Ontarians that got Covid and recovered…we didn’t see those patients. So, our patients die. Not all of them, but many of them. That kind of situation takes a toll and the best of the best, not only withstand that, but find ways to support their colleagues and ensure families are comforted. No one in this unit dies alone. No one on this unit, manages a dying patient, alone. Denise ensures that. Not that long ago, a patient died and there was a young nurse attending to them. Denise was leaving at the end of another very, very long day when she saw the nurse in the patient’s room, she took one look at her and realized she might be struggling. She asked if this was her first death, and the nurse nodded. So Denise went back to her office, put her things down and went back to help the nurse prepare the patient for their final journey. Denise was not going to let this nurse handle her first death alone. She may have known what to do, but Denise knew she needed more than just the operational knowledge. In that moment, the young nurse needed kindness and support, something Denise offers in abundance. Throughout this unprecedented experience she has been laser-focused on safety for her staff and her patients. When it seemed that her night staff were not getting the same quality of information as her day staff, Denise decided she would work nights too. Along with a few other Nurse Managers, Denise now regularly works the night shift so that continuity isn’t an issue—safety and quality of care will never be compromised on her watch. She is a hero by any measure.   Linda Flockhart, Clinical Director, UHN

I’ve known Denise my entire career, more than 30 years. A kind and funny person. A passionate person. Passionate about her work and about her people. She’s a strong advocate for her team and her patients and their families. She’s always been a leader in the way she conducts herself and serves those around her. She is committed to the ICU world. It takes a special person to take this on as a career. Many people learn what they need to and move on because this work is hard on the heart. Denise has made her career here and really established the modern MSICU as we know it here. The physicians who know her and have worked with her will tell you how much we respect her. Her actions are very principled, and you can’t argue with principle. She demands professionalism all around her. She will call people out, at any level who are behaving against her values. She is such a decent and caring human and that character is reflected in her leadership style and in how her people care for our patients. This unit has seen the worst throughout this pandemic—the sickest of the sick patients, and yet morale is good, our staff and patients feel supported, I think Denise is a very strong reason for all that. She is certainly a hero in the eyes of all who get to work with her.

Dr. John Granton, Interim Medical Director, Health Services UHN



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