A sunny disposition. Wise beyond her years. A great listener. Empathetic. Professional.

These are the words and phrases co-workers use to describe Gillian Gillies, a patient representative at Horizon’s Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital (DECRH) in Fredericton.

Although too demure to accept the recognition, Gillian concedes that many of the traits cited by her workmates have been deeply woven into her existence since early childhood. Her parents were funeral directors, operating a funeral home out of Hampton, where Gillian and her two sisters observed her mom and dad use kindness and compassion to help people through some of their worst moments. 


The 35-year-old holds a bachelor’s degree in Health Science in Nuclear Medicine and a Bachelor of Science in Biology and has been working in the health field for nine years; the last six with Horizon. Part of her career involved working in diagnostic imaging with oncology patients at the beginning or end of their treatments. It would only seem natural for Gillian to gravitate toward a career where family dynamics and helping people dealing with grief are part of the job.

“Some people struggle with the circumstances of death, so I try to be empathetic with patients and family members when they have lost somebody,” said Gillian. “I try to assure them Horizon does have values and wants employees to demonstrate them, whether it’s using compassion or being empathetic, being accountable, acting with integrity.”

As a patient representative, it’s in situations where patients or family members believe their care providers were not living those values that Gillian might be called upon to offer support and be the bridge to guide them toward the resolution of their concerns.

“With every phone call I deal with, I apologize if those values were not exercised during the patient’s visit,” she said. “I help patients and family members get in contact with the right people, whether it’s the nurse manager or if there are serious concerns we want to investigate those complaints as well and follow up with them, with the staff and the family.”


Gillian realizes a job in health care has its stresses, even more so now with COVID-19. Caring for two young children, being an essential worker and being married to one-Jeff is a firefighter with the Fredericton Fire Department-also has its challenges.

It’s at times like this that Gillian is thankful she has already developed a toolbox of coping strategies to keep her balanced.

“That’s something I’ve tried not to change,” she said. “I try to meditate and pray every morning and when I go to bed. Exercise is a main one as well. When under stress, the parts of your brain that problem solve can’t.”

“I started doing yoga in University,” said Gillian. “It’s how I learned to stay mindful of my thoughts and centre myself in times of stress so that I didn’t always react.”  


Every day at noon, Gillian dons her running apparel, sprinting out of the hospital for a 9 K run. She can scarcely recall a time when running hasn’t been a part of her life. Inspired by her parents, who ran marathons to ease the stress of their funeral director jobs, running, meditation and not owning other people’s problems are ways she’s learned to cope. Since being diagnosed in Grade Two with an anxiety disorder and learning disability, running has been a means of escape and a method to problem solve.

Her regular exercise and mindfulness activities help her empathize with patients, families and even her colleagues, and better equip her to deal with their stresses, especially during the current pandemic.

“Because people are under a great deal of stress, I am seeing complaints about family members who really want to come in and see their loved ones who are patients,” she said. “Thanks to help from the Chalmers Foundation, we’ve rolled out digital tablets to patients here so they can FaceTime or Skype with family members.”


Like others with young children, adjusting to the new dynamic at home has been a challenge for the young family.

“I am thankful I get to spend more time with my kids and husband,” she said. “I can’t see my sister and my mum and my dad, and that’s tough.”

Optimistically reaching from the toolbox that keeps her in balance at work, Gillian practices the same principles at home, trying to keep the family routine, well, as routine as possible for her little ones, Penelope and Malcolm.  Being on shiftwork, Jeff can be home weekdays with the kids. 


“We’ve never built so many Lego structures in our lives,” she said with a laugh.  “Jeff found it challenging at the beginning because they used to be in school and childcare.”

They’ve found ways to keep the family happy and healthy and relish the extra family time.

“We can’t go to the park but we’re still rollerblading in the streets,” she said. “Even if we’re still working we still can experience that because they’re not at hockey or soccer or swimming lessons. We’re altogether again.”


Rather than focus on this unprecedented time as the disruption it is, Gillian chooses to look for the silver lining.

“I tell my kids, ‘the present is a present because it’s a gift’,” she said. “Because everything has slowed down, I hope it allows people to come back into the present and realize in times of stress like this the sun is always there; even though the clouds are in the way there’s still blue sky.”

Being in the present for Gillian starts the moment she opens her eyes. A self-described morning person, Gillian’s day starts early, filled with gratitude and the anticipation of helping others while growing from her experiences.


“Just before I open my eyes I say, “Thank you, God! I’ve got 24 more hours.” Then she’ll put on her meditation music to center herself and thank God for the lessons that she will learn today.

Ensuring she replenishes herself daily through exercise, meditation and mindfulness allows her to be confident to face the challenges that will inevitably come her way.

“As the saying goes, ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’,” said Gillian. “If my kids or family get sick, I can’t deal with that if I’m not healthy myself.”

Like a spring breeze, those around her feel the warmth that emanates from Gillian’s passion and empathy, honed through years of practicing the things that allow her to approach life with a healthy blend of serenity, confidence and joy.

In the current health crisis, Gillian’s wish is for people to feel the way she does-calm and at peace with this.

“People can approach this and be scared out of their minds or they can approach it with love,” she said. “If you approach things with love, I think you can allow more compassion and hope into your heart.”