Nov. 16, 2021

Nursing alumna earns international award for ambitious 50-year career

Lucy Reyes is sole Canadian honoured in field of 2021 Filipina women of influence
Lucy Reyes
Lucy Reyes, a UCalgary Master of Nursing alumna, recently received an international award for an influential career in public health care. Photo courtesy Lucy Reyes

“What good did you do today?”

It’s a question Lucy Reyes, RN, MN, asks herself before falling asleep each night. It was her father who instilled the practice in Reyes when she was a young child growing up in the Philippines. Reyes’ commitment to doing ‘good’ every day, along with her exemplary work ethic and passion has served her well in her health-care career, which spans 50 years and has included many roles from front-line care giver to manager to project lead. Her excellence has been noticed both in Canada and in her country of origin. 

Lucy's award

Reyes received a 2021 Most Influential Filipina Woman in the World award in the Innovator and Thought Leader category at the Filipina Women’s Network’s international conference in San Francisco in September. She was the only Canadian to receive the award. It was a humbling experience for Reyes, who although she is semi-retired, continues to work in health care and volunteer in her community. 

“To be acknowledged alongside so many strong Filipina women from around the world was humbling,” says Reyes. “It was an honour to be part of an amazing international community.” 

Career beginnings

Lucy Reyes after graduating with her nursing degree in 1970.

Lucy Reyes after graduating with her nursing degree in 1970.

Photo courtesy Lucy Reyes.

Reyes was introduced to public health care at a young age when she accompanied her father, a vet technician, on his trips to remote areas near their home in the Philippines to vaccinate the villagers for tuberculosis. Learning by watching, Reyes began giving shots when she was still in Grade 5. 

These experiences created a passion for public health care, so it was no surprise that following high school Reyes earned a nursing degree. It was 1970 and a proud time for the family, but shortly after graduation, tragedy struck. 

“I witnessed my dad having a cardiac arrest, but I was unable to save him,” says Reyes, noting the experience motivated her to want to learn more to help others. “After that I went to New Jersey as part of an exchange visitor program for nurses.” 

During that exchange, Reyes worked as a novice staff nurse but quickly was promoted to case manager for cardiac surgery patients. It was her first foray into the world of cardiac care. Reyes was offered other promotions in New Jersey, but in 1975, she married her high school sweetheart and emigrated to Calgary to join him. 

Jobs were scarce in Calgary at the time, but Reyes landed a job providing nursing care at a long-term care facility to obtain Canadian experience requirement for licensure. Reyes’ husband worked two jobs as they struggled to make ends meet. Although she had to fight to get her first hospital job in Calgary, Reyes was persistent and before long landed a job as staff nurse in the intensive care unit at Calgary General Hospital. 

Her hard work continued to pay off as 18 months later, Reyes was promoted to nurse clinician and eventually became one of the first nurse clinicians for the intensive care unit. 

Dedication and success

Reyes was deeply committed to advancing her career. While working full time and raising her young family, she enrolled in courses at the University of Calgary and, in 1991, earned a master’s degree in nursing. 

Reyes’s commitment to health care landed her an appointment to the Alberta Ministry of Health’s Health Expert Panel Committee. She also served on several ethics committees, an interest that culminated in her appointment to the Canadian Nurses Health Expert Panel review of the Code of Ethics in early 2000. 

Lucy at the awards

As the years passed, Reyes’ career continued its upward trajectory and brought her numerous accolades and roles. She was seconded to be the first nursing informatics specialist within the IT department at the Calgary Health Region, a role in which she was instrumental in developing the Calgary Region’s Electronic Health Record and in the standardization of care across the region. 

She was manager of the cardiac units at Foothills Medical Centre. While in that role, she also took on co-ordination of the Strategic Clinical Network Arrhythmia and Stroke working group. Collaborating with numerous front-line clinical leaders from across the province, Reyes created a program to look at how patients with cardiac implantable electrical devices (CIED) were being cared for. 

In 2016, Reyes was set to retire, but continued in a part-time position as clinical lead of the PERFORM (Performance Evaluation and Rhythm Follow up Optimization through Remote Monitoring) initiative. The award-winning initiative spans the province, connecting patients living with CIEDs with specialized services remotely at sites across the province. 

When asked what spurred her to continue her lifelong pursuit of excellence, Reyes points to her deep faith, her upbringing and her experiences as a new Canadian. 

“As an immigrant, I wanted to prove that I am equally capable in my profession,” she says. “As a Filipino woman, I know that whatever I do will reflect on the community as a whole.” 

Dr. Derek Exner, MD, has worked closely with Reyes on the remote monitoring project for the past few years. He says Reyes made a real impact on how patients with heart rhythm disorders are cared for in Alberta, positioning the province as the benchmark and positively changing the lives of patients, their families and health-care teams. 

“Lucy has a remarkable combination of generosity, tenacity, leadership, and modesty,” says Exner. “Her secret powers include her ability to see the big picture when it is not so clear, to gently guide people in the optimal direction, to see past obstacles and to always act in a conscionable manner. The world would be a better place with more Lucys.” 

Lucy Reyes holds a Master of Nursing from the University of Calgary. She is the clinical lead of the PERFORM (Performance Evaluation and Rhythm Follow up Optimization through Remote Monitoring) initiative.

Derek Exner is a professor in the departments of Cardiac Sciences and Community Health Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). He is a member of the CSM’s Libin Cardiovascular Institute and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health.