Helen Keller once said: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

This is something Dr. Sara Waters knows well. The clinical education lead for Anesthesia at Royal Jubilee Hospital (RJH) for the Island Medical Program, Dr. Waters understands that patients can’t have quality health care unless the people taking care of them are a quality care team, brimming with respect for each other and dedicated to collaboration.

So she creates avenues for that team building to occur, spearheading social events that bring together surgical teams, including nurses, physicians, radiologists, anesthesiologists, anesthetic assistants, and even porters. The result – a sense of community and camaraderie that has paid dividends in the operating room.

“She does this without being in an official leadership role as a department lead, she just does it because she cares,” says anesthesiologist Dr. Andrew Munro.

“I create connections at these events and it helps me work better with people from other teams,” adds fellow anesthesiologist Dr. Adrian Vethanayagam. “She has created a way for us to learn about each other outside of work so we can respect each other while we are at work.”

Often, the focus of quality improvement in health care is on direct patient care – and Dr. Waters has led her share of these, says Katie Zimmerman, manager of Ambulatory Surgical Services at RJH. Although these projects were crucial in ensuring safe and quality care for patients, Katie says they are not Dr. Waters’ biggest achievements.

“Too often when we look for champions of quality we look for grandiose examples. Dr. Waters is grandiose, in a subtle and effective way,” says Katie, noting she keeps teams up to date with current practices and creates support tools that ensure safe, effective, equitable, and consistent care for patients. But the reason colleagues buy in to quality improvement is because she brings people together to create a cohesive team. “This has resulted in sustainability and support for these projects, which has led to a direct improvement in the quality of care for surgical patients.

“Her biggest quality achievement is her improvement to the quality of the teams she works with, and the effects that has had on patient care. Without a cohesive team that is proud to work together and enjoys coming to work, there will not be quality care for our patients.”

As a clinical education lead, Dr. Waters is also a mentor to residents and medical students, and beyond that to new nurses. Carly, a labour and delivery nurse, recalls her first time working alongside Dr. Waters in a delivery room, and how that impacted her entire career.

“The conversation she had with the patient was different then anything I had ever heard before,” Carly says. “She didn’t start by telling the patient what their options were or what was going to happen, she started by asking them to tell her what they were thinking and asked what questions they had. She showed me the true meaning of respecting a patient’s wishes and how to advocate for them through allowing them the opportunity to share where they are coming from. That experience changed my whole approach in how I support my patients. I will never forget how she impacted myself and the patient. I am a better nurse because I had the opportunity to work with her.”

Katie says it’s this everyday leadership, which Dr. Waters does without even realizing, that has had the greatest impact on quality improvement at the Island Medical Program – and on Katie herself.

That’s because Dr. Waters is also Katie’s big sister, and as “annoying” as it was to be the younger sibling of someone who excelled at everything she tried, Katie says she was also her biggest inspiration. It’s why she became a nurse.

“Sara is my mentor and my friend. I am so proud to be related to her because I know how much she is respected by her peers and her colleagues,” says Katie. “Without fail, every time I tell someone that I am Sara’s sister, they proceed to tell me how amazing she is. It is always the highlight of my day. I strive to achieve the same level of finesse in my work that she shows in hers.

“She makes me a better person, and I know that she does the same for so many others. What makes me most proud about Sara is that I am not the only one who feels this way about her. Everyone who she touches, she impacts. She truly does make the world a better place.”