Sarah Downey having breakfast with husband Manfred and children Elise and Joshua
Sarah Downey with husband Manfred and children Elise and Joshua

Five ways MGH President & CEO Sarah Downey maintains her mental wellness

As a hospital CEO, mother of two, wife, daughter, community leader, colleague and friend, Sarah Downey, Michael Garron Hospital (MGH) president and CEO, understands the power of self-care and making time for personal and professional mental wellness.

In her role as a hospital executive, Sarah’s days are dedicated to serving a community of hardworking people who dedicate their lives to caring for patients and families who rely on a strong healthcare system.

But her job doesn’t stop there.

Every other spare minute is focused on being a good parent and being present for her two young children. To keep up with a busy schedule while caring for herself at the same time, Sarah has several strategies in place to keep her mental wellness in check.

‘Maintain quality time with family’

Carving out quality time for her kids and husband is a key way Sarah remains balanced with so many day-to-day priorities.  

She’s chosen to work close to home so she can physically be near her children.

“I bring my kids to the office for breakfast and walk them to school when I can. On Fridays I let them sign themselves out of school so they can meet me at the hospital and we all drive home together,” she says.

“My husband and I spend quality time together between 6-7 a.m. while I make the kids their lunches.”

‘Leave work at work’

Despite her jam-packed schedule, Sarah emphasizes the importance of not bringing her work home. She credits the strong teams she has in place to support the needs and demands of the hospital.

“I’m a person who can turn it on and off. I don’t worry about the hospital 24/7 because I have great confidence in our people’s ability to respond to crises and trust that they will call me if they need me,” she says.

“If you’re always worried about work, you can’t be present for the other things that really matter.”

‘Prioritize what makes you happy’

While the operations inside of the hospital are high on her priority list, many people may not realize the important external dimensions of a CEO’s role.

“I’m out two to three nights a week at networking, fundraising and professional development events. In addition to influencing policies in the health system and building the reputation of our hospital, these events keep me connected to leaders I like and admire, and get me involved in causes that are important to me; this gives me perspective in my job,” says Sarah.

“But between all of this, I make it a priority to be at my son’s hockey games and I take my daughter to dance class twice a week. These are the things that make me happy.”

‘Take vacation’

“I always take my vacation to spend uninterrupted, quality time with my family. We spend summer holidays by the pool at my parents’ house west of the city,” says Sarah. “Every spring break we head somewhere down south and two years ago we spent Christmas in Australia. Sometimes you just need to get out of your regular routine so you can really decompress.”

Sarah encourages everyone to take their vacation to replenish and nurture their resilience.

‘Lean on support system’

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Sarah passionately explains the need for a strong support network of mentors, personal advisors and friends. She leans on people both inside and outside the organization for professional and personal support when she feels she can’t cope alone.

“My friends keep me grounded, positive and laughing. It’s a group of people with kids the same age as mine, and many also work in healthcare. The great thing about it is that we met through our children, and we actually know very little about each other’s careers. We have regular family dinners together, we vacation together, and although we lean on each other for professional support at times, we rarely talk about our work.”

While Bell Let’s Talk has come and gone, the need to continue the conversation on mental health at home, in the workplace and in the community is more important than ever.

Read more stories on self-care and wellness:

Social worker Alina Mustata on ‘caring for yourself so you can care for others’

MGH introduces ‘Big White Wall’: Why Dr. Michael Hiscox will be first in line to sign

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