Compassion in Action with Nancy Searl: When we include, we connect


Name: Nancy Searl

Title: Collaborative Practice Leader, Early Learning and Development Leader at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital

Advice to the Next Generation of Caregivers: Searl urges young caregivers to be open to new opportunities that may come their way, as these may provide unexpected fulfillment. She also encourages all caregivers to lead by example because she believes that each person has the potential and the obligation to be a leader, regardless of his or her role.

Interesting Facts: Searl is an avid cookbook collector who enjoys cooking for and feeding others. She is also a voracious reader and musical theater fan. As a trivia guru, her goal is to one day appear on Jeopardy.

Schwartz Center Activities: Searl first learned about the Schwartz Center through her role as collaborative practice leader at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and currently serves as the project manager and facilitator for the Schwartz Center Rounds® program.

“Demonstrating compassion is about being authentic and responding as genuinely as we can to whatever situation we’re facing. Each situation or issue that arises is unique unto itself so how we respond will never be exactly the same. What’s wonderful about this is that compassion is something that’s constantly evolving, it’s not finite.” – Nancy Searl

Experiencing Compassion in Childhood

It started out as an average day for Nancy Searl, a fourth-grader at the time, where the class would gather as part of the daily routine and listen to a story read by their teacher before going home for lunch. As other kids dashed out of the classroom following story time, Ms. Simpson pulled Searl aside to tell her about the new boy.

“He’s older because he’s been out of school for a very long time and I want you to push your desk right beside him,” said Ms. Simpson.

Determined not to let her favorite teacher down, Searl did exactly as asked and soon found out why Ms. Simpson trusted her with this important task: the boy had some speech challenges due to a cleft pallet. Searl remembered feeling honored that her teacher entrusted her with being this student’s buddy, so she took on the role earnestly to make sure he had a companion in class. Through her friendship with the boy, Searl realized that she could find inner fulfillment and rewards in helping someone else. This marked the beginning of her desire to pursue a career working with children, especially helping those with special needs.

When We Include, We Connect

For nearly 30 years, Searl has worked at The Easter Seal Society of Ontario and now at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, the largest pediatric and complex continuing care rehabilitation hospital in Canada. Searl oversaw programs working with children from birth to six years of age. She was also very involved with integrated early intervention programs and saw the importance of inclusion.

“When we include people with disabilities, everybody’s got something to learn and everybody’s got something to teach. When we include, we all become better citizens,” said Searl.

Similarly, the Schwartz Center Rounds® program provides an integrated approach to include all members in the hospital to share their stories. “It’s not just about clinical staff, it’s not just about doctors and nurses, it’s about all of us. Because each piece that we bring to the work and the life of the hospital impacts the care,” said Searl. “And that’s why I love Rounds, because it’s open to everyone.”

The team at Holland Bloorview had realized the need to facilitate the communication among and between different professional practices, so a collaborative practice service was established for practitioners to learn about each other’s approaches. Searl joined the program from the very beginning, shifting her career focus to health care and patient experience. “Everyone who has a hand in the care and planning for children needs to understand each other, talk to each other, communicate with each other. It’s important that we provide the mechanisms for this to happen,” said Searl.

A Positive Atmosphere Centered on Family-Integrated Care

The collaborative practice service came in part due to the changes in Canada’s health care industry during the past decade. Searl noted the anxiety incurred due to the transition to electronic health records. “Very few hospitals really moved to a full electronic charting,” said Searl of the challenging transition process. The stress and pressure accumulated as clinicians struggled to adapt to the new system in addition to the daily demands in a fast-pace environment. In fact, more than 90 percent of the members in the hospital asked for a forum where they could hear how their peers manage stress – and have their voices heard.

To Searl, supporting health care professionals to connect with patients and their families transcends numerical goals set by the Ministry of Health. “We have a very focused strategic plan and also we also have a determined commitment towards client and family-integrated care,” said Searl. “There isn’t a committee or a decision that we make in this hospital that doesn’t have families sitting right at the center of it.”

Searl feels fortunate to work in a positive environment despite the challenges and stress her team members face. “For all of the work that we do, the energy in this building is absolutely amazing. Our vision is a world of possibilities,” said Searl.

The hospital has a family advisory network consisting of over 145 family advisors. “And at the end of the day, we all come into work every day wanting to do the very best that we can,” said Searl. In order to achieve best performance, Searl stresses the importance of constant recharge and communication among staff. “Because the more in touch we are with ourselves and each other, the more in touch we’re going to be with our clients and families.”


Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital (Holland Bloorview) is Canada’s largest children’s rehabilitation hospital focused on improving the lives of kids with disabilities. Holland Bloorview is a global leader in applied research, teaching and learning, and client and family-centered care. It is a provincial resource transforming care for children with cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury including concussion, muscular dystrophy, amputation, epilepsy, spina bifida, arthritis, cleft-lip and palate, autism and other physical and developmental disabilities. Holland Bloorview’s vision is to create a world of possibility for kids with disability. For more information, please visit

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