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Cindy MacQuarrie: Leading with compassion

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Cindy MacQuarrie

By: Beverley Ware


Dr. Cindy MacQuarrie held her brother Callum’s hand. He couldn’t feel it, but his sister and best friend was there for him as he learned he would never walk again and possibly never breathe on his own again.

“I was with him and consoling him during that very challenging time,” said Dr. MacQuarrie, Senior Director, Interprofessional Practice and Learning at Nova Scotia Health Authority.

She was right by Callum’s side giving him her full support as he committed to living his new life to its fullest. Given these experiences, Dr. MacQuarrie sees life through a lens of sensitivity. She has a true appreciation for what others are experiencing, and that understanding and awareness support her in bringing together teams with a common goal.

 “I’ve always had the mentality that no matter what, if we’re all committed as a team, and even through some of the most challenging times, we will get through it together.”

That mindset has helped MacQuarrie lead her family and her team through turbulent waters. She was appointed to her current position just before the pandemic hit and worked closely on the COVID-19 clinical medical advisory team to inform the care of Nova Scotians.

One of Dr. MacQuarrie’s greatest learnings from the pandemic is the notion of resilience.

“We were all scared, and it brought us together in a very human and raw place. We built relationships with people which were honest. And because of that, we've been able to get to the place where critical dialogue can happen. COVID really shook the foundation and I feel that is one of the wonderful things that came out of it,” Dr. MacQuarrie said.

“We find a way together and no, it's never perfect, but we try. As a result, we’ve put some pretty amazing solutions in place which point us to the next phase of whatever we’re working on.”

Rooted in a sense of commitment to community

New learnings and innovative mindsets supported by leadership resulted in creative solutions that would not have been thought possible before the pandemic. MacQuarrie comes from four generations of nurses and with a Cape Breton sense of commitment to community. In Grade 11, she coached the local figure skating club to its first provincial championship when the club found itself without a coach.

“I had very strong female mentors in my family who taught me the true value of person centeredness. I was always around women who led with caring, and compassion and they were leaders in their community,” Dr. MacQuarrie said.

“They taught me the importance of valuing people no matter who they are or where they are.”

Dr. MacQuarrie learned from them the importance of being present with people and understanding different perspectives.

She began her career in Alberta working in large trauma and critical care centres. Given her roots, she started to dabble in education and professional practice. That set the stage for her to move back to Nova Scotia to lead and manage the organizational change required to foster interprofessional education and practice.

With her frontline medical experience and innate drive to help others, MacQuarrie has received community service awards that include recognition for her work during the Swiss Air disaster, her leadership role during the COVID-19 pandemic and her volunteer work to make Nova Scotia beaches more accessible.

“I remember my parents not being able to talk to the doctors when my brother was first brought to the old VG emerg,” Dr. MacQuarrie shared. She stepped in as daughter, sister, patient navigator and caregiver while working full-time and completing her PhD.

There were times the responsibility got heavy, but experience showed her many others have it far worse.

She then suffered the heartbreaking loss of her brother during the pandemic.

“From all of those experiences and more, I feel that bringing authenticity and vulnerability to health care is critical today.”

MacQuarrie maneuvers complex and challenging situations by focusing on solutions and leads with an innovation mindset. “I know the Interprofessional Practice and Learning team is making a difference,” she said, as it works with the Research Innovation and Discovery portfolio on such initiatives as nursing and workforce enhancement strategies, Virtual Care Nova Scotia and PWIC+.

“This is a place where we are happy in the gray. We are happy to test and try, and if it doesn't work, we've learned.”

MacQuarrie will be taking her exemplary leadership, health care and innovation experience, as well as her compassionate heart, into a new role as Chief Nursing Officer with VON. Her impact on Nova Scotia Health has been profound, as her impact will no doubt be in her new role as well.