Photo of Phen Ly

When Phen Ly, RN in Mount Sinai’s Schwartz/Reisman Emergency Centre, was young, he faced hardships that would be unimaginable to many people. After fleeing the Cambodian genocide when he was just five, he spent much of his early childhood searching for safety, first in Vietnam, and later in Indonesia in a refugee camp. After arriving in Canada at the age of ten, he became committed not just to his education, but to finding a way to make life better for other people.

“I knew when I was quite small that I wanted to do something to help people,” explains Phen. Once I was ready to go to university, I did more research and decided that being a nurse was the best way that I could give something back and help people directly and when they needed it the most.”

Phen started in nursing over 20 years ago, and at a time when nursing jobs were scarce. After doing a few small on-call contracts and shifts, he was happy to have gotten the call from Mount Sinai. “This hospital had a good reputation and I was happy to be working in emergency, which was important to me,” said Phen.

With 20 years at Mount Sinai, Phen has seen a lot of changes in the Emergency Centre. “When I first started, there were fewer patients and arrivals by ambulance, and it was a smaller department than it is today. I’ve also been through three or four renovations. Phase 3A that is happening now is really exciting because it is going to be all state-of-the-art equipment, and much more space to treat more patients, more efficiently,” Phen explains.

Phen says that his longevity in his job is due to several factors, but that it all comes down to the people and providing care. “When you first start, it can seem like it’s just another job, but you develop relationships with everyone you work with, and you become a small family. Like a home away from home. Work can be a really stressful place, but we all come here to provide safe patient care. That’s the main focus. I try to tell all the new staff, the reason we are here are to help people who are sick, regardless of their background, regardless of their complaint. You have to put yourself in their shoes – think about how you would want to be treated if you were them.”

At the end of a shift, Phen likes to reflect on the day. “When you can look back and know that you provided safe care to the patients and know that you worked to the best of your ability – that is my favourite part of the day. To wrap up and ask how many lives did I save? How many people left smiling? You know you did good.”

When he’s not at work helping patients, Phen can be found with his family volunteering at The Daily Bread Food Bank and spending quality time together enjoying the outdoors . “If it’s snowing out, I might take my kids sledding or skiing. But next summer my family is heading to Tokyo for the summer Olympics. It’s going to be very hot, so we’ll be taking in some of the indoor sports like volleyball, one of my favourites.”