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Caring for infants: A life’s work

Photo of Shirley Mack with a newborn baby.

From a neonatal ICU in Newfoundland to Central Zone’s Unattached Newborns Clinic and all stops in between – family practice nurse Shirley Mack is passionate about babies.

Mack, who is a 36-year veteran of nursing with experience in a wide variety of settings and specializations, is delighted to be where she started – caring for babies.

“My initial career goal was to care for infants. It feels only fitting to find myself again doing what I love best as I move closer to retirement age,” she said in a recent interview. “I always knew I wanted to be a nurse.”

Mack’s work in the Unattached Newborns Clinic plays a crucial role in ensuring babies born at the IWK Health Centre, who don’t have a primary healthcare provider, receive timely and comprehensive postnatal care. In 2023, almost 900 babies were referred to and seen by the clinic’s providers. The clinic team goal is to see babies within three days of delivery (or as soon as possible) after discharge, if they require extended hospital care.

A native of Pugwash, Mack grew up in River Hebert. She obtained her nursing diploma in 1987 from the Aberdeen Hospital School of Nursing and, in 1993, her Bachelor of Nursing degree from Athabasca University. 

The day after her graduation, Mack landed in St. Anthony, Newfoundland to work in neonatal, pediatric and adult ICUs. Eventually, she returned to Nova Scotia and worked in emergency departments before transitioning to family practice nearly two decades ago. In 2021, Mack received certification as a community health nurse.

In addition to Mack and the clinic administrator, one nurse practitioner and 10 physicians with experience caring for newborns take turns from their own practices to do shifts at the Unattached Newborns Clinic.

“There has to be a nurse practitioner or family doctor on site when I see babies, so the opportunity to consult them is always there,” said Mack, who is also responsible for coordinating X-ray and bloodwork reports, and liaising with the IWK when babies are referred for admission.

For most families whose babies are seen at the clinic, English is not their first language. Interpreters provide phone-based support for a wide range of languages, including Arabic, Ukrainian and Mandarin. Despite the language challenges, Mack and her colleagues develop a strong rapport with their patients.

“Building trust is such an important component of my work.”

The clinic’s team has been caring for babies right up until the family’s first appointment with their permanent provider. Over time, the workload has grown to more than 100 babies seen weekly from an initial 30 to 40. Plans are in the works for hiring a second nurse.

Mack said the work is quite rewarding. “One of the mothers called to let me know she had to go out of province ASAP, as her mother was gravely ill. I reached out to let her know we were thinking of her and to get back in touch upon her return. She sent this message: ‘Thanks for everything you do, Mack. My mom was a labour and delivery nurse for many years, and she was very thankful for your care of our son.’”

The clinic, which is a component of the request for care, is currently located at the Mumford Road Dalhousie Family Medicine Clinic but will eventually have a permanent home at the Halifax Shopping Centre.

Photo of family practice nurse, Shirley Mack, with a newborn at the Unattached Newborns Clinic.

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