Laying the groundwork

Prepping rooms, scheduling staff and calming patients – it’s all in a day’s work for the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre team.

Long before most people wake up, the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and Sprott Department of Surgery team of nurses, nursing attendants and anesthesia assistants is hard at work creating as safe an environment as possible. They’ve checked their patients’ identities and vitals, and assessed their anesthesia needs. Some will have met with specialists to manage additional health conditions. Others have diligently prepared the operating room (OR), discussed the procedure with the surgeons and briefed the post-surgical team. Most importantly, they’ve devoted a large part of their day to reassuring and comforting their patients.


Clare Attley, who has spent more than 40 years at UHN, estimates that she has seen more than 20,000 patients.

It takes a small army of professionals to pave the way for all of the groundbreaking cardiac and vascular procedures that happen at University Health Network (UHN). With a commitment to personalized care, they ensure a patient’s surgical journey is as worry-free as possible, clearing the way for a complication-free recovery. Many people make UHN tick, but meet one key player setting up the OR, and its surgeons and patients, for success.

The mastermind: Clare Attley

Patient Care Coordinator, Cardiac and Vascular ORs, Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and Sprott Department of Surgery

If anyone knows the inner workings of UHN’s Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and Sprott Surgery, it’s Clare Attley, who has spent 42 years at UHN and has, by her estimate, seen more than 20,000 patients. “Even after four decades, I come to work and hope that, as a team, we can make a difference in people’s lives,” she says. The Patient Care Coordinator helps oversee six cardiac and vascular ORs and, with the OR Clinical Manager and three other patient care coordinators, leads a team of 120 nurses, ensuring they’re prepped for the surgeries they’re involved in.

Attley used to be a scrub nurse in the OR, but she’s since turned her attention to implementing several innovative programs at UHN. For instance, she’s played an integral role in creating a cardiac-focused minimally invasive surgery program at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre during the pandemic. “Patients want to have less invasive procedures,” she says. “If they’re the right candidates for this type of surgery, they can be in the hospital for less time, have shortened anesthetic times and don’t need to be hooked up to a heart-lung machine during heart surgery.”

The original plan was to send nurses to train in Germany, where one of the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre’s minimally invasive surgery surgeons came from, but that trip was cancelled due to COVID-19. Instead, she set up training at UHN, while at the same time having to figure out how to order key instruments during supply chain-challenged times. “The learning curve was steep,” she says about the program.

More broadly, when it comes to keeping ORs running smoothly, Attley goes above and beyond, ensuring everyone is where they need to be at all times. “I have to keep everyone happy,” she laughs. Attley’s biggest source of pride, however, is how her team pulls together when surgical patients arrive. “We have the best team here – everyone pitches in when a patient is in dire circumstances,” she says. “It means everyone is doing their best to save a person’s life.”