Monday, February 16, 2015

Celebrating Jennifer McPhee, Med Lab Science, UAlberta (1972-2015)

Updated: 27 May 2018 (minor tweaks)
Recently, I experienced the equivalent of a kick in the gut. Jennifer McPhee, who was in Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) at the University of Alberta when I first came to MLS in November, 1977 (~38 yrs ago), announced her well deserved retirement. I knew Jennifer was to retire in 2015, but seeing it in print made it real. Jennifer will hate me for this blog but it has to be done.

Jennifer has always been associated with MLS in one way or another, whether as a student, graduate (1972), research technologist, instructor, or MLS coordinator, a post she held since 1988 (more than 25 years). 

I encourage you to use the Comments section below to relate anecdotes about Jennifer, anything that strikes your fancy. You can do so as 'Anonymous' and add your name and graduation year (if relevant) at the end of your post, or not. 

Below is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to support Jennifer's nomination for a University of Alberta award, tailored for the award. 

Otherwise, my comments would be more personal, such as how the heck Jennifer, someone who runs every day and is in great shape, could ever tolerate my smoking in my early MLS years. Or how when I came to MLS, only the second non-MLS graduate on staff, she kindly showed me where everything was, from the toilets to the cafeteria, and gave the scoop on who the big-wigs were. 
I'm delighted to write a letter to support the nomination of Jennifer McPhee for an Academic Staff Recognition Award. I have known Jennifer as a colleague in Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) and Laboratory Medicine and Pathology (LMP), where I taught for many years. 
 Jennifer played a key role in the careers of so many staff and students and continues to do so. As LMP's APO, Jennifer has been the glue that holds the Department together. During her tenure Jennifer has seen many Department Chairs come and go, all with different personalities and agendas. Throughout she presented a steady presence that staff and students have come to rely upon. Of particular note, Jennifer piloted MLS through the era of government cutbacks in the 1990s when Alberta cut payments to medical laboratories by 40%. 
Throughout her entire career, Jennifer consistently fostered a positive culture among academic and non-academic staff and encouraged us to be creative in dealing with new realities. During the darkest days of the 1990s, I never saw Jennifer anything but upbeat. She was a beacon to students and staff alike. For example: 
1. When as a blood bank instructor, I considered applying on MLS’s behalf to conduct a 5-day continuing education conference in Saudi Arabia for the health care system of Saudi Aramco, but felt insecure about it, Jennifer encouraged me to 'go for it'. As a result of her encouragement, MLS and LMP won the Saudi contract.

Indeed Jennifer encourages all staff to 'go for it' and consistently holds up a mirror that shows us in our best light.  
2. In 1996, when MLS instructional staff had to create ways to accommodate more than double the number of clinical students due to restructuring of Alberta’s medical laboratory system, Jennifer encouraged us to do whatever fit our individual situations. Most importantly, by example, she kept us enthused with her can-do approach to seeing ‘problems’ as challenges to be met.  In retrospect, the year we had to transmogrify our clinical training is one of MLS and LMP’s finest hours, due in no small part to Jennifer's leadership.

3. Jennifer is an astounding ambassador for the University of Alberta's MLS program and laboratory medicine in general. She promotes University of Alberta programs on many levels, including recruitment in local high schools and via university open houses. 
4. She also serves as an assessor for the Conjoint Committee forAccreditation of Educational Programs in Medical Laboratory Technology for the Canadian Medical Association (Note: CMA accreditation of allied health programs ceased 1 Feb. 2018) ). By volunteering as a member of the CMA's accreditation team, Jennifer has given the University of Alberta's MLS program and its clinical sites a high profile across Canada. In assessing other programs, she’s a natural at promoting the ideals of what an excellent program should aspire to be, yet she respects the challenges faced by all. 
 In summary, when staff and graduates think of MLS, they cannot help but think of Jennifer McPhee with affection and gratitude. I admire her greatly. She is a most worthy recipient of an Academic Staff Recognition Award.
Please comment as suggested above: Do so as 'Anonymous' and add your name and graduation year (if relevant) at the end of your post, or not. Or contact me and I can add your comments.

Many thanks. 
Cheers, Pat


  1. Anonymous7:14 PM

    I met Jennifer when she put on an information session about MLS. Her positive attitude and approachability really got me excited about the program. I was pleasantly surprised when the next time we met, she immediately remembered my name and greeted me warmly. Which she continued to do every time I saw her thereafter. I hope she has a wonderful retirement and will continue to be an inspiration to others.
    Dayna D

  2. Anonymous10:44 PM

    Jennifer has always been so approachable; no problem is too big or too small and she always seems to be able to find time to sit down and talk to you if you need her help. She always greets you like you're an old friend. I'm sure she will be greatly missed by the department.
    Candice, MLS grad 2007

  3. Anonymous12:21 PM

    Jennifer and I met when she became the MLS Coordinator in 1988 and I was just beginning the program. Always supportive and encouraging! Thank you for being part of my life journey and for having an incredible impact on so many people.
    Best wishes,
    Doug Walker, MLS '90

  4. Anonymous8:56 PM

    No matter how busy Jennifer is, she always makes time for whoever needs it. She genuinely cares about all of the students who go through the program which meant a lot to so many people.

    I am grateful to Jennifer for her guidance during my time in MLS and I would not be where I am today if it wasn't for her. Thank you for being such an inspiration, Jennifer!

    Yvonne; MLS grad 2010

  5. I was in the nursing program when I first met Jennifer. I had decided that nursing wasn't for me and I wanted to be a medical lab technologist. I also knew however that I wanted to do a bit of traveling and study abroad first. I was worried about how it might all work out with the MLS program so I went and talked to the program coordinator, Jennifer. She was the most upbeat and positive person and really helped me with my university career choices, assuring me that everything would work out. She encouraged me to go abroad and to apply to the program for when I got back. After talking to her I was so excited to become a part of the close knit MLS class family that she fondly talked about with me. She made me think that being in the program I would have wonderful instructors and a really great learning environment. Being a lab technologist is the perfect career choice for me and I think Jennifer really helped make that a reality for me. Thank you for your kindness, approachability, and love for MLS Jennifer! Have a wonderful retirement!
    Sabrina Hannon, 2013 graduate

  6. Anonymous9:51 AM

    Jennifer has been someone that I have looked up to and hoped to emulate. She has always been supportive of me and been eager to help in any way. She has signed my passport applications and proctored my SAIT course exams, she has always been there when I asked for a favor.
    I will miss being able to just pop in for a visit and catch up.
    I wish her only the safest of travels.
    Kathy Swainston, MLS 1994

  7. Anonymous9:59 AM

    Jennifer truly was the face of MLS and it is going to be very different without her around. She always made time for you no matter how busy she was and it was obvious how much she cared for the program and all of the students within it. Her enthusiasm and dedication was truly inspiring to us all.

    Richelle, MLS grad 2010

  8. Anonymous3:29 AM

    Jennifer was always the go-to person throughout my time in the MLS program. From giving course selection advice at the start (electives are tricky!) to writing probably a million reference letters for me at the end (and even for years afterward), I could always count on Jennifer to have an answer to my questions. I've met other MLS grads throughout the years, and the one thing we all have in common is a reverence for Jennifer.

    Thank you, Jennifer, for all you've done for me and for all of the other MLS students during your years at the helm!

    Sara, MLS 2010

  9. Anonymous2:53 PM

    Jennifer epitomizes all that is MLS, and it is difficult to imagine the program without her. She has continually provided staff and students with guidance and encouragement as both a mentor and a peer. She has always been kind and generous in her interactions with everyone she meets, and has been an incredible advocate for the program, as well as the profession. Jennifer has always been a source of inspiration and her influence has always made me strive to uphold the same level of grace and aptitude that she has always conducted herself with. She will be greatly missed by everyone in the FoMD, but she is now on a well deserved journey to adventure, relaxation, and all the best things life has to give. She leaves behind a legacy of students wishing they had someone as strong, personable, and wise as her to guide them in their lives - both personal and professional.

    Good luck, and congratulations, Jennifer! I'm proud to be an MLS graduate and a great part of that is because of you.

    Ashlyn, MLS 2012

  10. Anonymous5:49 PM

    Jennifer, you were a wonderful constant in the MLS program in the four years' of classes I had the pleasure of taking in the basement of ClinSci. Your approachability, knowledge and common sense kept us all - and many others, I'm sure - on the path to our successes. Congratulations, Jennifer - and enjoy retirement!!
    All the best,
    Jenn Danielson (Haslett) MLS 1996

  11. Anonymous10:07 AM

    From the moment I met Jennifer she made me feel so welcome. I came into the MLS program already registered as a tech and was put in with a class of people who had already been together for two years. Jennifer never made me feel like an outsider and despite her stern exterior was always willing to take the time to chat.

    The department simply won't be the same without you in it.

    Jason Rapps
    Class of 2013

  12. Anonymous10:15 AM

    Jennifer, while unfortunately I didn’t know you when I was a student in the MLS program, I was pleased to work with you when I chaired the MLT program at NAIT.

    You were always so welcoming to me when I came to the university advisory meetings. I remember the first meeting I was invited to, I showed up late as the roads were bad and I hadn’t given myself enough time to get there and find a parking spot. I was so humiliated with myself for making such a bad first impression, but I recall you allowing me to slip into the meeting with grace and ease by commenting on how happy you were to see that I made it safely with the way the weather was. I will never forget that.

    You were always quick to offer your assistance and collaborate, building bridges with NAIT. I am lucky to have worked with you, even if it was for only a small part of your career. Thank you for your enthusiasm and mentorship. I wish you all the best on your retirement – so well deserved!

    Heather Gray, MLS Graduate 1986

  13. I first met Jennifer when I just heard about MLS and wasn't sure if it was something I should apply for. Our meeting was so relieving- I had just met one of the funniest, kindest people who didn't make me feel pressured to do anything in particular. Jennifer always wanted to help you do what was best for you and she was genuine in that in every step. I hope your warmhearted attitude and leadership lives on through MLS, have fun in retirement!!

    Ann T, Class of 2014

  14. Anonymous6:25 PM

    When I think of Jennifer, words that come to mind include wise, compassionate, caring, incredibly competent, endless energy, able to cut to the heart of the matter and attend to issues, ready with a reassuring smile…As if she is taken by surprise, and then that most engaging laugh.

    Most recently what I am grateful for is her willingness to make room for me to continue to stick my finger in the pie. This is in spite of me having taken advantage of the early retirement, which I did in the interests of staff renewal. And that was almost 20 years ago. Egads.

    Rosemarie Cunningham (MLS 1963)

  15. Anonymous12:16 PM

    Congratulations Jennifer! From the bottom of my heart, thank you for accepting me in the post-diploma program in 1989 - it grounded my health career! My degree opened many doors for me in the NWT, much in part due to my increased knowledge but also in my increased confidence. Take good care my retired friend - you have been an inspiration for me:)
    Cheryl Case (MLS 1992)

  16. Anonymous2:08 PM

    It was the Spring of 2004. I sat quietly in the MLS office, palms sweaty, waiting for the "Jennifer McPhee" to meet me.

    MLS had been on the radar for me as career path, but I sometimes take too long to make decisions, and during all that contemplating the deadline for applications for the 2004 had passed. So here I was ready to beg, plead - I had a song and dance ready - for her to write a note to the Registrar so that my application could be considered.

    With a few handwritten sentences to the registrar (or maybe it was a few keystrokes... I cannot remember) and a non-judgmental atttitude (or maybe she was judging me and I did not notice), my application was in, and she literally changed my life.

    Jennifer was always present, genuinely cared about all students in the program, and was suitably there to give me a firm handshake in Spring 2007 after I had walked across the stage at convocation. My feelings of loyalty to the program were no doubt built by the loyalty that she had demonstrated in fostering my career.

    Marc Yu, Class of 2007

  17. Anonymous11:14 PM

    Jennifer was an amazing program coordinator. I met Jennifer when I decided to attend the MLS post-diploma program as an international tech. She was very helpful, welcoming and always had a smile.

    Jennifer I wish you all the best and I know that wherever you go or whatever you do your heart will be in it.

    Anonymous 2006

  18. Anonymous1:51 PM

    Like many have said before, Jennifer truly is the face of the program and has been for many years. What an interesting and significant legacy to not only instill wit, class, leadership and integrity to the program but also to touch such a multitude of people and leave a positive impact.

    I am sure that the vast number of small positive
    impacts Jennifer has had due to her daily interactions over the years has added up to an absolutely irreplaceable legacy and ripple that will still be felt for years in the program.

    I am personally grateful to have had interactions with Jennifer in my life as I feel they have only enriched my experience with the program.

    Jennifer, a sincere thank you for not only all you have done but the way in which you have done it as well.

    Joanna Page

  19. Anonymous4:13 PM

    Dear Jennifer,

    Congratulations on your retirement! I was happy to hear that you had reached this important milestone in your life - well done!

    I feel fortunate to have known you in several different capacities: as a coordinator of MLS, as my supervisor and mentor, and as a colleague. For me, your greatest strength is your ability to reach out to people, to make them feel comfortable, welcome and important. Your easy smile lit up the basement of the Clinical Sciences Building and you were always a friendly face and a willing listener. You didn't get worked up easily; instead you calmly solved one problem at a time. From the first time I met you at my admission interview, I have admired your capability and your integrity.

    You are also quick to lend a hand whenever needed. From letting me borrow your clothes to head off to Saudi to opening your home to allow me to play your piano. I can't think of a more horrid thing than to have to listen to someone else's kid practice the piano!

    I also loved the many staff Christmas dinners that you graciously hosted…

    You have been the 'face' of the MLS program for many years and have made important contributions to the wonderful program that it is.

    I have many fond memories of the times when I was both a student and an instructor in the program, and you were a big part of that. I will certainly miss you!

    I wish you all the best in your retirement and for the many happy years ahead for you and your family.

    Sonja Chamberlin (and the rest of the Chamberlin gang - Barry, Cody, Kirsten, Michaela and Brayden)

  20. Anonymous2:23 PM

    As a long term colleague of Jennifer's, I write with sincerity that she was a huge part of our institution. She filled so many roles, with utmost competence - she was an advisor to both staff and students, she was a tremendous listener, and was an endless resource because had a masterful understanding of how the organization worked both politically and financially. She was the first person I went to when I had a question, an idea, or just wanted to share something I was excited about. She was dedicated to our program, and seemed completely tireless. She is missed, but her integrity and dedication have given us all something to continually strive for.

    -Amanda, Class of 2001

  21. Anonymous11:59 AM

    Congratulations Jennifer on your retirement, I hope that it is restful, exciting and full of joy. Over my much convoluted career have been involved in other faculties and programs and I certainly appreiciate how involved and supportive you were with the students, colleagues and peers.

    My first impressions of you were so impactful, I decided to apply to MLS after seeing your presentation to a roomful of highschool kids in CAB. And I have not gotten MLS out of my veins since then.

    I last wore a lab coat over 15 years ago when I left working with you in the MLS program, but I still strive for the foundation of excellence, empathy, and integrity that you shared with all of us and embodied in your role.

    You have impacted a generation of MLS professionals and also the next one. Your brief interaction with Eric was amazing, and he is so looking forward to joining the MLS class of 2018.

    Your friend,
    Lori Querengesser - Class of 1986


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