THUNDER BAY – Lessons found in the book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, echo many of Sam McKnight’s own values: sharing, being kind and respectful to one another, cleaning up your own messes, and living a balanced life of work, play, and learning.
As director of Diagnostic Services at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC), McKnight is a long way from the classroom, but she says communication skills and the ability to get along with others have proven valuable throughout her career, from her beginnings as a medical radiation technologist (MRT) to various management positions.
Walk the Talk: How the Director of Diagnostic Services Inspires her Team
Earlier this year, she was nominated by her colleagues and was later selected to receive the TBRHSC Walk the Talk award for “an individual who leads by example, possesses excellent interpersonal skills, provides guidance to promote team and individual development, and inspires a culture of lifelong learning.” The Walk the Talk Awards have been given out each year since 1999 to recognize employees of the Health Sciences Centre that demonstrate excellence contributing to the mission, vision and values of TBRHSC.
Upon graduating high school, the Mississauga native initially attended Queens University’s concurrent education program with intentions of becoming a teacher, but after a brief time there her focus changed. She decided instead to upgrade her high school math, physics and chemistry in order to apply to the x-ray program at the Toronto Institute of Medical Technology, now the Michener Institute.
“I knew I wanted to work with people,” she says. “And I liked the technical and problem-solving aspects inherent in medical radiation technology.”
When McKnight graduated, she knew she wanted to work at the soon to be opened Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga. She was given increasing amounts of responsibility as a MRT before becoming a supervisor and then manager in the Diagnostic Imaging department.
McKnight was exceedingly grateful for the many opportunities to learn and develop her leadership style at Credit Valley. She was especially drawn to a new initiative that promoted a healthy work environment and caring relationships in the hospital through training in areas like conflict resolution and communications skills. “Learning how to communicate and collaborate has always been important to me,” says McKnight. “After the program, I was able to train other teams in the hospital. I enjoyed working with teams, helping them work through conflict. If you don’t deal with those things, they can become stumbling blocks and negatively impact the patients we are there to care for.”
In 2009, after almost 25 years at Credit Valley – nearly half of that time in clinical practice and the other in management – McKnight and her husband Todd purchased a house in Thunder Bay and moved here with their dog Lilah. She considers herself extremely fortunate to have been offered an initial contract position at TBRHSC as Manager of Special Projects in June 2009. After moving on to manage Diagnostic Assessment Programs, she became the Director of Diagnostic Services.
Sharing continues to be important to McKnight. She considers it an honour to participate each year in The Bearskin Airlines Hope Classic, a curling bonspiel that raises money for the Linda Buchan Centre for Breast Screening and Assessment at TBRHSC. She also volunteers for her national professional association – the Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists (CAMRT). She is the former chair of their Professional Practice Advisory Council and currently chairs the Best Practice Guidelines project committee.
She says that good leaders engage their staff and build a culture of accountability. “Healthcare leaders are in a position to influence people and we need to find common ground and, ultimately solutions that enable us to provide the best patient care possible.”