nurse photos comparing Donna's early days and today


Donna Holtsbaum sits, hands clasped, at a table at Chartwell Camellia Retirement Residence in Surrey. It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon, and Donna pulls out a photo album from the compartment of her late husband’s walker. It is easy to see that Donna, now 83, was one of those old-school nurses: stoic and no-nonsense, one of the ones that wore a crisp white uniform and a nursing cap that held every strand of her hair exactly in the right place—the kind of nurse who commanded respect with a modest appearance.

A fulfilling nursing career

Donna clearly remembers graduating from Royal Columbian Hospital’s nursing school in 1961. “You had to be 21 years old to write the two-day exam,” she says. Donna worked as a nurse, making full-time wages even before graduating. “The director of nursing said I would have no problem passing,” she says with a smile.

After graduating, Donna worked at hospitals in New Westminster and Abbotsford before landing a full-time position in the case room (now called the Mata Tripta Birthing Unit) at Surrey Memorial in 1962.

Donna’s dedication to the profession contrasts with that of many nurses today. Despite being consistently ranked as the most trusted profession for the past 21 years, a decade-long national study discovered that 17.5% of new nurses left their jobs within one year, with 33% leaving within two years and 60% leaving within eight years.

Donna worked for 35 years as a registered nurse at Surrey Memorial Hospital. “I had a wonderful time working at Surrey Memorial. It’s such a part of my life,” she says. She retired on January 7, 1996, but her connection to Surrey Memorial didn’t end there. Her husband of 60 years, William Holtsbaum, received treatment at Surrey Memorial Hospital when he fell ill. Tragically, he passed away at the facility in 2022.

Caring becomes second nature

Donna’s caring responsibilities didn’t end when she retired from Surrey Memorial Hospital. William was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 50 and later suffered from kidney failure. “I looked after William from when his problems began,” Donna says. “It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for me, because caring is automatic.”

William’s problems didn’t end there. He was admitted to the hospital for several months with pneumonia in the fall of 2021. He recovered and was sent home, but in the spring of 2022 he was hospitalized again. On April 19, 2022, he passed away. Donna’s gratitude for the care her husband received remains. “Everyone went out of their way, and the doctors were excellent.”

Leaving a legacy

Experiencing healthcare from the patient’s perspective in 1970 after a heart attack, Donna’s desire to contribute to healthcare solutions deepened. Not only does she donate to the Surrey Hospitals Foundation, the Arthritis Society and the Heart and Stroke Foundation are on her list as well.

Today, as a leadership donor for the Surrey Hospitals Foundation, she has also established a legacy gift, ensuring her impact endures in the community she’s called home. Donna can decide where to allocate her gifts and witness the impact her donation is making in real-time. Donna asked that her most recent donation be funneled toward the renal unit at Surrey Memorial Hospital. A former colleague, Kathy Kinloch, helped to start and develop the unit’s hemodialysis program.

Legacy planning also has financial perks, Donna points out, as legacy gifts provide donors with a tax break.

The importance of giving

Every day, Fraser Health residents and healthcare heroes join forces with the Surrey Hospitals Foundation, to provide exceptional care and fund cutting-edge equipment. Though retired from nursing now, Donna takes pride in actively shaping the future of healthcare in her community through her donations.

Have you thought about making a legacy gift?


About the Author

This article is a guest post by Denise Moulton, a registered nurse that works at the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre in Surrey. Denise is passionate about writing. Her background in journalism allows her to create compelling and informative content that resonates with anyone interested in healthcare. In her free time, Denise can be found exploring British Columbia’s hiking trails.