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Charlottetown nurse carrying on compassionate care 50 years on

Dr. Randy MacKinnon describes Rita Kennedy as a kind, gentle and compassionate nurse who has honed her skills well over 50 years in her cherished profession.
Dr. Randy MacKinnon describes Rita Kennedy as a kind, gentle and compassionate nurse who has honed her skills well over 50 years in her cherished profession. - Jim Day

A remarkable 50 years working as a nurse on Prince Edward Island has failed to harden Rita Kennedy’s approach to her cherished job by any margin.

Compassion was instilled early in Kennedy, who has simply gone on to nurture this intrinsically valuable trait to her profession.

“She’s very kind,’’ says Dr. Randy MacKinnon, who has leaned on Kennedy for the past 13 years in his practice as a family physician in Charlottetown.

“She’s very gentle and very compassionate.’’

MacKinnon lavishes praise on Kennedy’s approach to the job, and, perhaps most importantly, her thoughtful interaction with patients.

She never seems rushed, he notes. She always makes the patient feel at ease.

And she does it all, he adds, with a pleasant demeanor.

“She’s just very good at what she does,’’ says MacKinnon.

“She has really honed her skills over the years.’’

Make that half a century - a milestone MacKinnon calls an incredible achievement.

He says Kennedy is believed to be the only nurse still practicing on P.E.I. after 50 years in the profession.

“That puts her in a category of her own,’’ he says.

Keeping count

Rita Kennedy offered the following ballpark numbers tallied over her 50-year (and counting) career as a nurse on P.E.I.

  • Blood samples taken: A million or more
  • Flu shots given: Roughly 16,000
  • Blood pressure taken: At least 30,000 times

Kennedy, 68, of Charlottetown says she has yet to retire because she still enjoys the interaction with patients.

“I still love the patient contact,’’ she says.

“I still love talking to people.’’

Kennedy decided at a young age she wanted to have a career as a nurse.

She was touched by the kindness and compassion shown to her by nurses when, as a Grade 4 student, she had three separate stays in the hospital due to pneumonia.

“That just drew me to wanting to do that,’’ she recalls.

Kennedy adds that her mother, who did home care and relished helping people, was also a strong influence in her career path.


Kennedy was only 19 when she graduated from the one-year-program at the former Central School For Nursing Assistants.

Donning a yellow uniform with a big, white apron over top, hair tied up and topped with a white cap, and dress hanging stiffly below the knees, she started her career in the children’s ward at the former Charlottetown Hospital.

At work earlier this week, she was wearing a bright orange top, a skirt cut above the knees, and a comfortable pair of sneakers.

“It’s come a long way,’’ she says.

What has remained constant, though, is her caring approach.

“(Doctors) all have their own ways of doing things – the way they would like to get things done. So, it would just take a little getting used to.’’

Spending her first three years as a nurse working under the legendary, late paediatrician Dr. John Hubert (Sock) O’Hanley offered Kennedy a special template.

“He was wonderful,’’ she says.

“I admired that man from the beginning because he always took such great care with the kids…compassion – that is what stuck with me throughout all these years. The way he would treat the patients and be so kind to them all.’’

After moving on for a stint in the maternity ward, Kennedy started what has been the large bulk of her career: working for doctors in their family practice.

First up was a two-year run with Dr. Gerry O’Hanley, a son of Sock.

Eighteen years with Dr. Kevin Coady followed, which, Kennedy says, resulted in a pleasant working relationship built on mutual respect.

“It’s definitely team work,’’ she says.

“I would get to know what he wanted before he’d even come out of the room and ask for it.’’

Rocky ride

The fourth family practice to employ Kennedy – Dr. Grant Matheson’s – would prove to be a rocky ride.

Kennedy witnessed first-hand Matheson’s unravelling at the hands of an opioid addiction – a crashing fall from grace Matheson detailed in his book “The Golden Boy: A Doctor’s Journey with Addiction.’’

“As things went on, things became more difficult – well, difficult for him and patients and things,’’ she says.

“It was very sad – very sad. Nobody wants to see somebody in a position like that.’’

Matheson’s downfall resulted in Kennedy moving on to work with MacKinnon – the fifth family doctor to serve as her employer.

Each time she changed doctors, it was like a new job.

“They all have their own ways of doing things – the way they would like to get things done,’’ she says.

“So, it would just take a little getting used to.’’

MacKinnon says he and Matheson work together as a tight team trying to meet the needs of all the patients that they see from day to day.

“So, yes, I may be considered her boss but really our relationship is both ways,’’ he says.

“It’s very collaborative and it’s all about trying to meet the needs of the patient.’’

Working in family practices for decades has provided Kennedy with plenty of variety. Patients range from babies to nonagenarians.

She has learned a great deal about different diseases, but, sadly, has also been on the job long enough to see one disease or another claim the lives of hundreds of patients that became familiar faces to her.

“You hate to see people getting really sick and just declining,’’ she says.

Kennedy is seeing less patients these days.

She moved to part-time last year, reducing her work to four mornings a week.

“Kind of easing in to retirement,’’ she says.

Still, she plans to work for at least one more year – and certainly will continue to cherish each of the 50 years she has already tallied as a nurse.


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