May 12, 2014 (Florence Nightingale’s Birthday). Last week I had the privilege of attending The Tennessean’s Nurse of the Year ceremony in Nashville in honor of our own nominees: Beverly Craig, VP- Regulatory Compliance and Clinical Risk Management at Capella, and Sheila Thomison, RN, who works on the geropsychiatric unit at Stones River Hospital in Woodbury, TN (pictured below). I had the opportunity to hear the amazing stories of nurses who – like Beverly and Sheila – have throughout their careers impacted the lives of others in profound ways. Their stories touched me deeply and got me reminiscing about an event in my young professional life that indelibly shaped my thinking about the importance of nurses.
In addition to celebrating her nomination for “Nurse of the Year” at last week’s luncheon, Sheila Thomison, RN, (center) was also celebrating her 40th year in nursing and her 70th birthday. From left are: Mark Medley, President of Hospital Operations; Sue Conley, CEO of DeKalb Community and Stones River hospitals; Sheila Thomison; Beverly Craig; and Michael Wiechart.
My mom (Judy Wiechart) is a nurse who is now retired after more than 35 years of caring for others while raising her own. I can still remember her working the 3 – 11 pm shifts and still having supper ready when we got home and breakfast when we woke up before school. The clinical healthcare profession runs deep and wide in my family with one sister who is a BSN and midwife and another who is a dietician. Numerous aunts and uncles on both sides were nurses or nursing assistants. I myself started in Premed with the aspiration of being a doctor, but fortunately for patients everywhere I ran into Chem205 (Organic Chemistry) which served its intended purpose of weeding out the undisciplined and the undeserving.
This leads me to the event.
Unable to be a doctor, purely by chance I ended up in healthcare finance and got my first real job as a staff accountant in a small hospital in North Carolina. It just so happens that that’s where my Mom was working as a unit supervisor on the 5thfloor orthopedic unit. Full of something but knowing nothing, one of my primary responsibilities was to accumulate the daily staffing information (manually back then), develop a summary analysis, and then send stern little “reminders” to directors about the importance of hitting their staffing targets – including my Mom. Imbued with great power and wisdom that one can only get with about six months experience and a 2.3 GPA, I was doing life-changing work that would one day transform healthcare.
Well, let’s just say one day I became a little overly zealous in my work and a good friend of my Mom’s who was the assistant nursing director (let’s call her Nurse G) decided she had had enough of my “help” and came by my office with my Mom. Without saying a word, she reached across my desk and grabbed my tie, yanked me up and out my chair, and then pulled me 100 feet down the hallway to the ER where she ceremoniously led me past the ER nurse’s station and outside under the ambulance portico. Standing outside the ER with my Mom, Nurse G conveyed the following message that I will never forget.
“Mike, nurses work in a very difficult profession that is stressful, tiring, and very unpredictable. And while we can’t predict everything, what I can predict is that sometime over the next 15 minutes, somebody – likely a frantic mother with a sick child in her arms – will come running through these doors crying and the one thing you will never hear her say is ‘help me please, my child is sick, we need to see an accountant!’. You need to understand right now, young man, that those who have their hands on the patients in hospitals are by far the most important staff members. Remember that the next time you send one of your little staffing reminders.”
Given that my Mom was there and probably arranged this life lesson only added to its impact. She just quietly stood there and let it go down without saying a word and without making eye contact. We never talked about it again and she hasn’t mentioned it since. No need to as the message had been forever received.
Nurse G was (and is to this day) right, and I thank her and Mom for caring enough to teach me hard lessons. Clinicians, but especially nurses, are invaluable… theirs are the hands through which we deliver the very care we exist to provide. Taking nothing away from the rest of us who have our roles to play, the truth is that the closer you are to the patient, the more important you are and that will never change.
So, to all the nurses and mothers out there during this month when we celebrate both National Nurses Week and Mother’s Day: Thank you for wiping our tails and our tears. Thank you for your labor in having us and your labor in healing us. But most of all, thank you for not only giving us life and sustaining it, but for teaching us the value of it through your sacrifices.
P.S. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!