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Aug. 28, 2023

Remembering Dr. Vanessa Burkoski (1961-2023)

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It is with profound sadness we mourn the passing of Dr. Vanessa Burkoski, RNAO past-president, long-time member and extraordinary nursing leader.

During her time on RNAO's board of directors and as president (2014-2016), Dr. Vanessa Burkoski was a fierce advocate for expanding the nurse practitioner (NP) role, promoting registered nurse (RN) prescribing, enhancing community care, reinstating health coverage for refugees and supporting medical assistance in dying. She contributed to the introduction of three new RNAO best practice guidelines (BPG), a training program for Syrian refugee support and helped achieve government funding for 31 attending NP positions in long-term care homes.

Prior to her role at RNAO, Dr. Vanessa Burkoski worked as a public health nurse (1984-1990), primary care NP (1990-2002), director of emergency and critical care services (2002-2006) and Ontario’s longest-serving chief nursing officer (2007-2011). Dr. Vanessa Burkoski was an innovator in provincial health programming and policy, a champion for the community, and a leader in strategic advice as well as nursing expertise.

Before retirement, Dr. Vanessa Burkoski served as chief nursing executive and people strategy chief at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital from 2016-2021, where she also led the hospital to became a Best Practice Spotlight Organizations® (BPSO®). As part of the executive leadership, Dr. Vanessa Burkoski worked to foster cross-functional and interprofessional collaboration across the care continuum with a strengthened focus on quality, and patient- and family-centred care.

Dr. Vanessa Burkoski – a nursing leader par excellence - was recognized for her contributions to the nursing profession with numerous awards. In June 2023, she received the Order of Ontario, the province’s highest civilian honour for excellence and achievement in a field and leaving a lasting legacy in our province. At RNAO’s 98th Annual General Meeting, Dr. Vanessa Burkoski was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award for her dedication to nursing in the areas of practice, education, administration and research at the provincial, national and international levels.

Always being a supporter of nurses’ growth and improvement, Dr. Vanessa Burkoski once said “ensuring nurses have all the tools to deliver the best quality and safest care” was important to her.

Dr. Vanessa Burkoski will always be remembered as a nursing mentor, inspirational leader and true friend who was passionate about making a difference for nurses and the community. RNAO extends its deepest condolences to her spouse, Norman Burkoski, her children Leo (Sarah), Vanessa, stepchildren Stephanie Hoehn (Kramer), Matthew (Sarah), her mother Roma Santarossa (Vittorio, 2016), sister Roma Williamson (Neil), brother Reno (Laura), sisters-in-law Kathy (Larry, 2014), and Marcia Burkoski. Dr. Vanessa Burkoski also leaves behind five grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.

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To learn more about Dr. Vanessa Burkoski and her  achievements, please read the family's obituary, her Q&A in the 2014 issue of RNJ and watch the accompanying video.

Family and friends, with the support of RNAO, have established the Dr. Vanessa Burkoski Memorial Scholarship for Nursing Education, to be managed by the Registered Nurses’ Foundation of Ontario (RNFOO). If you would like to read more, please see here. The RNFOO donation page can be found here.

The funeral mass for Dr. Vanessa Burkoski took place on Friday, Sept. 1, 2023 and is available in YouTube. The text of the eulogy given by Dr. Doris Grinspun, RNAO CEO, is available here

Tribute from RNAO member and past board member Paula Manuel.

On May 4, 2023, Dr. Vanessa Burkoski sat down with RNAO to talk about her extraordinary nursing career. 

In June 2023, Dr. Vanessa Burkoski received the Order of Ontario, the province’s highest civilian honour for excellence and achievement in a field and leaving a lasting legacy in our province.

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