May 24th, 2024

‘I passed the torch to my boys, this gives me peace and comfort’ Sons to carry on mom’s nursing legacy after 40 years on the front-line

By Jennifer Vanderlaan on May 9, 2024.

Nursing runs in the family for Aaron, left, mom Allyson and Devon McCaw. Allyson will be trading her scrubs for golf clubs when she retires as a nurse at the Margery Yuill Cancer Centre in Medicine Hat Regional Hospital in June after 40 years in her profession.--PHOTO COURTESY DEVON MCCAW

Allyson McCaw has dedicated her life to nursing. For 40 years, she’s found great comfort and joy in providing her unwavering compassion and care to those in need.

In June, Allyson will be trading her scrubs for golf clubs when she retires as a nurse at the Margery Yuill Cancer Centre in Medicine Hat Regional Hospital (MHRH).

For most, retirement is the end of an era. While this will be true for Allyson personally, it’ll also be a fresh chapter in her family’s nursing legacy.

Allyson’s two sons, Aaron and Devon – influenced and impressed by their mother’s dedication to her career – have decided to follow in her footsteps. In 2023, both boys graduated from the same program at the University of Alberta (U of A) in Edmonton with their degree in nursing.

“It’s a perfect sendoff,” says Allyson. “I passed the torch off to my boys and this gives me peace and comfort as I know current and future patients will be in great hands.”

Hospitals are hardly unfamiliar to Aaron, 34, and Devon, 33. In their formative years, they spent lots of time visiting their mom during her breaks at work. “Visiting the hospital was quite normal for us,” says Devon. “I always found comfort there. Hospitals were never a scary place for me.”

Over countless family dinners, Allyson also shared stories about her work, talking passionately with her boys about the job she loves so much.

“I’ve enjoyed working as a nurse,” says Allyson. “My passion and knowledge for nursing is something I always brought home to my family.”

Allyson graduated from the Kelsey Institute in Saskatoon in 1983. Shortly after, she moved to Tofino, B.C., where she launched her nursing career and met her husband, Richard.

In 1989, Allyson, expecting her son Aaron at the time, moved with Richard to Medicine Hat to be closer to family, and started working as a nurse at MHRH.

Fifteen months after their first son arrived, Allyson and Richard welcomed their second son, Devon.

As the years went by, Allyson saw in her sons the qualities she knew would be invaluable in healthcare.

“Both boys were always so compassionate and caring,” she adds. “And I’ve always said that’s the number one thing you need to become a nurse.”

Allyson was never one to pressure her kids into a career. However, in moments when her boys exhibited thoughtfulness and compassion, which was often, she would remind them how great they would be at nursing.

These gentle nudges did not go unnoticed by her boys.

“She definitely planted the seed,” says Aaron. “It just took me a while to get there.”

Devon agrees: “Although she was never pushy, my mom would often remind me that I could always be a nurse. We were very much influenced by her and her diverse nursing career.”

Aaron and Devon didn’t pursue nursing right away. Instead, they spent a few years trying to find a career that would give them the kind of fulfilment their mom enjoyed with hers. Over time, they came to realize they wanted more from their work.

“I wanted to improve the quality of my life, and the quality of other people’s lives,” says Aaron. “The decision to apply to nursing school felt like a win-win.”

Aaron’s decision to apply to nursing school prompted Devon to go the same route.

“He’s my best friend. I thought it would be cool if we had similar careers,” adds Devon.

Aaron and Devon applied to different schools. Serendipitously, both received acceptance letters from the same university only weeks apart – a proud mom moment for Allyson.

“It’s phenomenal that two children who are 15 months apart would be attending the same program at the same university,” she says. “All I want is for them to be happy. This is happiness.”

The ‘McCaw boys’, as they became known on campus, found in each other a built-in study buddy and healthy competitor. Their companionship brought them through some tough times, and they emerged stronger through the program, more prepared for the hard work ahead.

“School challenged me in ways I could never have anticipated,” says Aaron. “It changed me as a person and I’m so grateful to have shared this experience with my brother.”

Aaron and Devon remained in Edmonton after graduating; both accepted jobs at the University of Alberta Hospital – Aaron in the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute, Devon in the neurosurgery unit.

As Allyson’s nursing legacy grows through her children, Devon is also in a relationship with a registered nurse.

“We now sit six people around the table, four of whom are nurses,” adds Devon. “This makes dinner conversations pretty exciting.”

As retirement nears, Allyson reflects on her life’s work with a sense of fulfilment. She’s grateful for the gift of living a life of service – and for being able to share her values with her sons.

“As a parent, all you can do is instil in them all you can, set them free and hope they land where they need to.”

The McCaw boys agree they’re right where they need to be.

“Nursing feels like the right fit, for many reasons,” says Aaron. “I’m grateful to my mom for her inspiration.”

Jennifer Vanderlaan is the senior communications adviser for Alberta Health Services, South Zone. May 6-12 is National Nursing Week

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