Megan Linker’s nursing career began in high school when her mother, Laura, was diagnosed with breast cancer, not once or twice, but three times. Linker would come home from school and care for her mother, who was given a 10 percent chance to live. Linker’s mom beat the odds, and today, mother and daughter work together at Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital. “Having your mom at work is great,” says Linker,
who works as a recovery nurse.
Linker’s mom helped her get an interview for her current job. “I had no interest in working in cardiovascular nursing,” she says. But after working a few shifts, Linker “fell in love with it.” And within six months, the now-26-year-old was asked to chair the house-wide committee, which helps make clinical decisions for the Baylor heart vascular system. Encouragement from her mom, co-workers, and patients has led her to pursue a Master of Science degree in nursing. “Initially, I was extremely intimidated, because I was such a new nurse,” she says. “But they knew me.”
Leslie Lewis’ dad was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease before anyone knew what Crohn’s disease was. She watched him struggle through the complications of the disease and always thought she would lose him at a young age. Her mom, however, was relatively healthy—except for the asthma she battled as a child, which came back in her 30s. The asthma caught up to her, and at 45, Lewis’ mother died. Lewis’ father followed shortly after. Lewis says she didn’t know enough about how to help her parents. This drove her to enter nursing school.
She thought she’d go into adult ICU, but then she did her pediatrics rotation. “I knew kids were where I wanted to be,” she says. “They were so vulnerable, and you could do so much to help them.”
Lewis spent several years working in the ICU and doing transport. She’s now the ECMO coordinator at Medical City Children’s Hospital. It’s her job to put children on the ECMO, a partial heart-lung bypass machine, after they have cardiac surgery. “It can be stressful at times, but it’s very rewarding,” she says. “We give these kids a chance to survive.”
Nurse practitioner—Acute Care
Brenda Thompson traveled from Dallas to Texas A&M to help a patient with his beta-blockers. A department head at the college, the patient was worried about missing classes. So every couple of weeks, Thompson would load up her supplies and drive to see him. The patient never missed a class.
This is normal behavior for Thompson, who answered a newspaper ad to start the nation’s first heart-failure program in 1996. She had spent 10 years in ICU nursing and cardiovascular care. When she got the job at the UT Southwestern Medical Center, she stood in the middle of the outpatient office and asked, “If I were a patient, what would I want to have available to me?” One thing that came to mind was having a provider on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For the next seven years, she would work many of those shifts. For Thompson, building a successful center was about insight and knowledge. “It’s just keeping the patient at the center,” she says, “and building everything around that patient and that family.”
Between college semesters, Rosemary Luquire took a job as a unit secretary in a hospital. At the time, she was pursuing a music degree. Today, she has spent the past 41 years as a nurse. Corporate senior vice president/chief nursing executive for the entire Baylor Health Care System, Luquire says the switch was easy. “It’s so focused on making a difference for people, for the community, for patients and families,” she says.
Luquire says the industry used to be focused on hospital care, but now there’s a shift toward wellness and helping people with chronic illness live better. To accomplish this, nurses must continue to learn, something Luquire is passionate about. “We have worked for our leaders to become better educated,” she says, noting that hospital administrators have advanced degrees. “It’s really putting the nurse leaders, giving them the right skillset to sit at the table with all disciplines and be a valued partner.”
Michael Rogers earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology and went to work for a law firm where he reviewed medical records for pharmaceuticals. Reviewing the records, he realized that people needed to know the implications of medications before they started taking them. At 24, rather than going to law school, he decided to go into nursing.
Rogers is now a bedside nurse at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Zale Lipshy University Hospital. Rogers’ patients are often on bed rest. After weeks of little movement, his female patients’ hair gets matted and, sometimes, shaved off entirely. “I hate that patients come back from rehab and they’re bald,” he says. “They’re already depressed, and then we take away more of their self-identity by taking away their hair.” So he asked a co-worker to teach him how to braid. Although his days are spent helping people through all sorts of issues, the simple act of braiding hair has given Rogers a moment to connect with one patient and her husband. “He needed somebody that knew what was going on and wouldn’t judge him for not being strong for his wife and let him be vulnerable for a second.” Rogers was happy to be that person.
Several years ago, DaiWai Olson had a depressed patient. The patient’s dream was to retire early and spend the rest of his days golfing. He did retire early, but then he got into an accident that paralyzed him. Olson searched “paraplegic” and “golf,” and up popped multiple specially outfitted golf carts that would allow the paralyzed patient to participate in the sport. Just like that, everything turned around. “Sometimes you just have to sit down with a patient and find out what it is for them,” Olson says. “I really think that nursing care made a difference in his life.”
At the UT Southwestern Medical Center, as an associate professor of neurology, neurotherapeutics, and neurosurgery, Olson, 51, spends his days researching how nursing contributes to patients’ recoveries. So far, he has published more than 100 research articles on the topic. “I think it’s a fair statement that everyone believes nurses make a difference,” he says. “But scientifically, how do you tease out that variable? How do you account for that?”
Early in Pamela Green’s nursing career, a young man was admitted into the hospital where she was working in intensive care. The man was on a ventilator and was medically paralyzed. Every time he tried to wake up, his body would quiver “as if he was trying to overcome gravity.” It was rough on everyone. One night, the young man was Green’s only patient. For the entire evening, she sat beside him and explained that what he was feeling was medically induced. She sensed that his fight against the restraints had everything to do with confusion.
The next day, the young man stopped fighting his condition. He didn’t remember Green specifically, but he remembered a nurse sitting with him, telling him it was okay. “You’re not just there for what you have knowledge of medically,” Green says. “You’re there to meet all the needs of the patient.”
Green is now a nurse practitioner for the supportive- and palliative-care program at Baylor Medical Center at Carrollton. Anytime she cares for a patient making end-of-life decisions, she remembers that lesson and the lessons she learned when her father was in the same position. “When I had that conversation with my father,” she says, “I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was the greatest gift my father ever gave me.”
A teenage girl was traveling alone from Mexico to Chicago when she started having contractions. She stopped in Dallas and ended up in front of Kim Green.
“You could immediately tell that she was frightened,” Green says. “Nobody was there to support her. She was completely alone.”
Green spent the next few hours in the room with her, encouraging her, and reducing her anxiety. Because the teenager had been traveling and didn’t anticipate going into labor, she had nothing for her baby who was born that evening. So the next day, Green took baby items to the hospital and gave them to her. The teenager cried.
For 48-year-old Green, nursing comes down to one thing: compassion. “If somebody cannot treat the person they’re caring for like a family member, then they’re probably not in the right field,” she says.
Green puts this policy into place every day at Methodist Dallas Medical Center where she’s a nurse manager of 95 employees. She chairs multiple committees (including one that is focused on reducing workplace violence) and heads up a research project focused on infant feeding practices. Her job is intense. But it’s worth it.
Regina Miller worked in a burn unit and emergency room for years before having a family. She took time off to raise her children, but when they went to school, she returned to nursing and was offered a job
as a school nurse. “I thought, ‘Oh, well, that’ll be nice. How hard can that be?’ ” Then she laughs.
As the school nurse at Jerry R. Junkins Elementary in Dallas ISD, the 52-year-old is in charge of hundreds of patients—children and school faculty. Some days, she’s overseeing an abuse case and working with Child Protective Services to ensure a child gets out of a bad situation. Other days, she’s returning from a field trip with a class of students who have all become ill. Then there are the days where she has to explain to a parent that if she doesn’t come pick up her child with a 104 temp, that she will call the police. “You try to help so many,” she says. “But you certainly can’t help all of them.”
Although she acknowledges this reality, it doesn’t keep Miller from trying. She’ll show up on doorsteps. She’ll find work-arounds to get glasses for her students. It’s not an emergency room or a burn unit. And it most certainly isn’t easy. “But it’s wonderful,” Miller says.
Sharon D. Smith
Sharon D. Smith’s last child had complications during delivery. Her cord was wrapped around her neck, and the nurses and doctors had to work quickly to save her life. Smith, then an accountant, watched them work and decided she wanted to help people the way they helped her. Five months later, she started nursing school.
A couple years into her education, doctors found a tumor on Smith’s brain. Although she had given many patients pep talks during her training, she realized it was time to give herself one. She told herself, “I’m going to be a miracle, and everything is going to be okay.”
She opted to postpone surgery for a year so she could finish school. During that time, she worked, holding patients’ hands, letting them cry while she dealt with massive headaches. Her patients rarely knew what she was dealing with. “We have to have positive thinking,” she says. “It’s mind over matter.”
She finally was able to get her surgery. And two months later, she was back at work.
Smith uses her story to comfort patients in her department at the UT Southwestern St. Paul Hospital. And she tells patients the same thing she told herself when she heard the news: “This is a temporary setback for a major comeback.”
Carole Inman’s mom was a nurse. inman’s first job was as a nurse’s aid at a hospital when she was 15. From that moment, Inman knew she wanted to be a nurse. When she told her mom, her mom was thrilled. Her only advice: work hard.
The 64-year-old has been doing just that ever since. As a coordinator for the joint program at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano, Inman has been instrumental in reducing the number of falls the patients experience. “One of the biggest issues after joint replacement is trying to keep our patients comfortable,” she says. At a conference, she heard about a time-released medicine that allows patients to stay mobile, but with less pain. She discussed the medication with the doctors in her department and got it implemented. Inman was also instrumental in getting her department certified with the Joint Commission.
“That was one of our ways of validating the strengths of our program and letting the public know,” she says. “There are so many choices out there. Some are definitely better than others.”
The story starts in the emergency room at Parkland Memorial Hospital. Lucilla DeTamble, a “late-bloomer” who entered nursing at 28 after beginning a career in insurance, was working on the emergency floor. A man walked in with his 3-year-old daughter in his arms. It was apparent the child had already passed, but the man was hysterical, saying his daughter had been run over by an ice-cream truck and asking for help. At the time, hospitals were starting to push the practice of families being present to witness what was happening with critical patients. So while the doctors and nurses took the little girl and worked on her, the father watched. The team’s efforts were unsuccessful, but the father calmed down. Seeing the efforts that were made helped him accept his daughter’s death.
When DeTamble finishes her story, the 61-year-old admits she’s surprised she’s crying. It’s been more than 25 years. “You learn how to cope with it,” she says of the daily stresses of the emergency department. “You learn how to separate yourself. You have to see it in a different perceptive.”
For 33 years, DeTamble has worked in various emergency departments. Now, as the staff nurse in the emergency department at Baylor University Medical Center, DeTamble has dealt with the worst cases imaginable. “It’s always high-stress,” she says. “You don’t know what’s going to walk in that door.”