When asked what quote best represents her style, Tracy Buckler, newly named President and Chief Executive Officer of St. Joseph’s Care Group in Thunder Bay, responds with her famous laugh, “Take your work seriously, but never yourself.”
Buckler’s work is serious. The healthcare organization she heads has an annual operating budget of $115 million and includes a staff of approximately 1,700 people. She oversees the multi-site facility, which includes a complex care/rehabilitation hospital, a psychiatric hospital, an addiction facility, a detoxification centre, a diabetes health centre, a behavioural sciences centre, two longterm care facilities, an Alzheimer day program and a community centre. A competent leader, Tracy Buckler rose to the top in the St. Joseph’s Care Group with style, savvy, and good humor. “I believe that if you can’t laugh, you are in trouble. Humor is very important, and laughter truly is the best medicine.” This philosophy is something Buckler encourages in the people who work with her – keep things light when appropriate but make sure you’re doing your job as well as you can.
Buckler was born in Scotland and raised in Wawa, Ontario. Her journey to her current position began in 1985 when, as a new graduate from Sault College, she moved to Thunder Bay with her future husband. They drove around to the numerous health care facilities that existed in Thunder Bay at the time. Buckler remembers dropping off her resumé at St. Joseph’s Hospital and immediately being taken to meet Janet Slivinski, the Assistant Director of Nursing. It was Miss Slivinski who led the future CEO up the stairs to 2North to meet Sister Bonnie MacLellan – the head nurse at the time. “That day was memorable because there was Sister Bonnie, cleaning utility shelves since the floor was closed. At that time, we used to close certain units to clean, paint, and repair areas when the Operating Room slowed down in the summer. It was an interesting first meeting.” Janet Slivinski said to Sister Bonnie, “We have a nurse for you.” Tracy Buckler had a job at St. Joseph’s Hospital. She started work with the organization on August 19, 1985.
After being on the job for awhile, Buckler decided to pursue her Post-RN Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.
“I dabbled at courses toward my nursing degree in the beginning stages,” says Tracy of her slow progress in finally achieving her BScN in 1999. Being a mature student was tough at times, but eventually rewarding.
“When I was going to school, working, raising a son, and juggling home commitments, there were many times, days, assignments, and deadlines that I didn’t know if I could manage. Even though it can be tough, going back to school has huge advantages because you can apply the real-life experience learned on the job to your education.”It was an interesting time to be a student at Lakehead in the ‘90s because distance education was new, and teaching technology and medical technology were rapidly changing.
Buckler appreciated the Lakehead professors who recognized the multi-tasking that was required as a mature student. “The most significant professor for me at Lakehead was Lorne McDougall. He was always reasonable and logical in setting deadlines, while being respectful of adult education principles and real-life commitments at the same time.”
Along with her professors, Buckler has learned from mentors on the job. Encouraged and mentored by both Sister Bonnie MacLellan (former Assistant Executive Director – Patient Services), and Carl White (former President), she considered other jobs within the Care Group.
Buckler calls Sister Bonnie an inspiration. “She saw something in me as a nurse that she wanted to nurture. She’d say ‘Why don’t you try this?’ or ‘Maybe you should apply for that job.’ From the very first meeting she was a huge influence on my career.” Sister Bonnie encouraged Tracy to think about things along her career path that she wouldn’t necessarily have thought she could do because she was happy in her nursing role.
Carl White and Tracy were a great team who worked hard together – she as Chief Nursing Officer and he as President – and also laughed together. To this day they remain good friends.
As for her vision of the future of St. Joseph’s Care Group, Buckler says that they need to keep the caring philosophy that has been in practice at St. Joseph’s since 1884. This guiding principle is first and foremost in every decision. As President and CEO she believes her role is to provide guidance, leadership, and clear direction. From Buckler’s perspective, titles don’t matter as long as everyone in the organization takes pride in his or her work. “Do what you do well and we’ll be fine. Look after the people we serve in a way that’s compassionate and speaks to our caring philosophy.”
Thunder Bay is home for Tracy, her husband Philip, and their son, Ian. Their extended family has grown with her in-laws’ relocation a number of years ago and with the addition of her father who recently moved to Thunder Bay from Barrie.
“I spend a lot of time recruiting people to move to Thunder Bay,” she says. “I am so proud to call Thunder Bay home.” First on her list of the best Thunder Bay has to offer is ‘the lake’ that Buckler has a glimpse of from her office window, followed closely by amenities such as the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, Magnus Theatre, the golf courses, and many good restaurants.
Tracy Buckler, 2006 Lakehead University Alumni Honour Award recipient, is someone who genuinely enjoys family, life, her community, and work.