Madison’s Top Nurses 2012
How do you find the best nurses in Madison, the ones who go above and beyond the duties of their profession every single day? You ask their patients, colleagues, families and friends who can never say enough about the successful, smart and, of course, compassionate nurses in their lives. After Madison Magazine and WISC-TV3 asked the community to help us find and recognize their favorite nurses in all areas of health care, seven winners emerged from a pool of more than a hundred remarkable and qualified candidates practicing in a wide variety of health care environments and in a diversity of roles within the profession. To be chosen for this honor, Madison’s Favorite Nurses must have been trained in a formal nursing program, and all were vetted by the state Department of Regulation & Licensing. This year, we asked our nurses to tell us, in their own words, what it’s like to work on the frontlines of health care in Madison, Wisconsin. Here are their stories.
Portraits by Narayan Mahon
Nurse Clinician, American Family Children’s Hospital
What’s the best day you’ve ever had? There have been many good days that run smoothly and where patients have good outcomes with their procedures. Working side by side with my daughters, who also became surgical nurses, in the operating room stands out as one of the most memorable days in my career.
What I love most about my job … I work with doctors who tirelessly strive to improve their care for the precious lives of their patients. The surgeons, anesthesiologists and other professionals inspire me to do the best job I can. Every day presents itself as an opportunity to learn something. My most important role is to care for and support each patient with compassion, as though they were a member of my family.
Nurses are often described as especially compassionate, even angelic. Do you agree? Patients have a natural fear of surgery, fear of the unknown, or fear of possible disfigurement or even death. And having an anesthetic places a patient in a position of vulnerability. Supporting and connecting with a patient at this vulnerable time is so rewarding, and having a patient tell you that you were their angel is humbling.
Are there common misperceptions about your work? Some may think operating room nurses are not registered nurses, but we simply have chosen a career path where we care for the patient during surgery. We act as a patient advocate during this scary part of their treatment. We see the whole picture, assisting our team members. And, of course, we communicate with family members as they anxiously await news and updates.
Would you recommend a career in nursing to others? I would encourage anyone interested in becoming a nurse to spend some time talking to one. Talk to a mentor. Nursing is not just a job; it is a passion. It is a part of who you are. It is a career to be proud of.
“Denise makes the operating room run smoothly, and on a constant basis. During emergent situations, she is calm, thinks logically and is able to perform her duties under extreme pressure. She is able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. She performs her duties with skill and grace.”
Assistant Professor, Edgewood College & Nurse Clinician, American Family Children’s Hospital
Describe your path to nursing. I am master plumber in the state of Wisconsin and have held the license for thirty years. While a plumber and volunteer EMT in a small northern Wisconsin community, I started taking high school students to South America on medical projects. From this I fell in love with nursing. At the age of forty-five I went to college for the first time in my life.
What’s the best day you’ve ever had? I believe that my best days are when I am walking out to my car and I marvel at what I have learned through the action of a child. When many of these children face what seem like insurmountable odds, they smile. Their attitude and courage to find the best in everything and to set such an important example for a nurse to follow are the small things in my job that mean so much.
How do you decompress from a hard day’s work? I ride my Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The freedom of the road and the wind in my hair allow me to put the daily stress in proper prospective.
Who are your mentors? In nursing I have two mentors that I value very much. One is a nurse educator; I can ask her anything about work and I value her opinion. She has guided my professional development and advancement. The other I met after hearing her lecture and describe her service-learning trips and it turned into a life of volunteering and coordinating health care missions to Cambodia for me.
“Claude’s ability to connect with children is unique. He communicates with endless compassion, poise and patience, and he strives to deliver the best care to all his patients. Claude cares for the sickest of the sick. The families under his care need constant communication, reassurance and trust in Claude to do everything in his power to help pull their child through whatever health challenge they may be facing. Claude exceeds these expectations.”
Internal Medicine Nurse Practitioner, Meriter Medical Group
Average day on the job for me: As an adult nurse practitioner I treat patients from age eighteen and up and enjoy the variety. No two days are the same. I see and treat patients with acute concerns, such as a cough, sore throat or breathing problem, but also manage chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease. I see, on average, ten patients a day.
People would be surprised to know: I wish I did not have to prescribe medications. Most chronic illnesses can be prevented or managed with healthy lifestyles–regular exercise, plant-based diets, maintaining a healthy weight and stress management.
How has nursing changed over the years? Nursing opportunities continue to expand well beyond the walls of hospitals and clinics and into non-traditional nursing roles such as entrepreneurs, consultants and business owners, informatics specialists, scientists and researchers, and health and wellness coaches. I think this is a very exciting time to be a nurse.
What kind of people do you look up to at work? Who are your mentors? I appreciate the scientists, researchers and clinicians who have created the evidence upon which I can soundly base my practice–how best to treat diabetes or high blood pressure or help someone quit smoking. But I also learn from my patients, especially the elders, who have so much to teach about the value of a life well lived.
What kind of professional development have you had and what impact has this had on your work and career? Serving on the board of the Preventive Cardiovascular Nursing Association has been an incredible opportunity for me to work with nursing leaders from around the country to help advance a personal goal: helping nurses become leaders in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. I’ve met with members of Congress to advocate for legislation promoting healthy school lunches, which eventually passed and is being implemented in schools. I also participated in an Office of Women’s Health public service campaign to raise awareness of heart attack symptoms and the importance of calling 9-1-1.
What’s unique about practicing nursing in Madison? We are lucky to have some of the best health care systems in the country here in Madison together with great academic institutions that allow nurses to continue to learn and grow–whether pursuing degree advancement or simply learning to be a better clinician.
“Jane develops respectful and honest communication with her patients as she believes that it is the patient who, more often than not, has the best insight about what’s going on and what needs to be done.”
Owner, Country Comforts Assisted Livingsisted Living
What’s the best day you’ve ever had? With end-of-life care, the best day is a day when someone has passed peacefully and comfortably from this world, and the family of the person has been allowed to be part of the process in ways that are meaningful and helpful for them. My role is simply to be a knowledgeable, helpful and caring presence.
What I love most about my job … With older people, I love learning about their life experience, influences, and who and what is important to them. With someone who has dementia, this is not always an easy task to figure out. One of my favorite stories is about a wonderful woman who had Alzheimer’s. Though I cared for her for more than three years, she never learned my name. One day when I went to pick her up from a respite day care center, as soon as she saw me, she said to her volunteer, “There’s my owner. She’s come to take me home.” That told me she felt safe and “at home” with me.
Nurses are often described as especially or unusually compassionate, even angelic. Would you agree? It depends on the person. I think if someone feels a real calling to go into nursing, there is likely to be a sense of compassion. If it is just a job, I’m not sure that there is as much compassion or empathy. I have always said you can pay someone to do a job, but you can’t pay someone to be kind–that comes from the heart.
If I weren’t a nurse, I would be … A pastor. I have always been drawn to the mystery and spiritual dimension of life. When I was in college, my church did not ordain women as pastors. If they had, I may have gone to seminary and been drawn to hospital chaplaincy. Addressing the spiritual and emotional needs of patients in addition to their physical needs has always been a concern of mine.
How do you decompress from a hard day’s work? Taking a long walk with my dog and reading are my two favorite ways to relax. I also have a partner and several friends who are good listeners if I just need to talk.
Are there common misperceptions about your work? Some people think that caring for two people shouldn’t be enough to keep me busy. However, typically, the residents who come to Country Comforts have caregiving needs that are very intense and complex. That is especially true for residents who have come for end-of-life care. There have been several people who have chosen to leave nursing homes to come and live with me–two of them were already in hospice. I know that if I had more than two residents, I wouldn’t be able to give them and their families the level of care I’m committed to providing.
“Mim’s goal is to help residents live the best life possible for however many years, months or days they have left. She has said that her mission in life is to nurture, advocate for and provide hospitality to those who are vulnerable. She is truly living out her mission.”
Clinical Professor, UW-Madison School of Nursing
How has nursing changed over the years? Nursing has become more varied and focuses more on health promotion. Nurses have become more involved in decision-making about care. Care has become more complex, and nurses need to use multiple sources of information.
How do you decompress from a hard day’s work? Getting together with colleagues is the best way to decompress. You can empathize with each other about the challenges of your job. Everyone understands the frustrations you’ve had that day.
Give us a feel for an “average” day on the job. Much of my work is now done on a computer. It might include preparing a lecture, finding readings for students, putting together or grading exam items. Probably the largest part of my day is communicating with students and other faculty through email. There is face-to-face time during classes a few hours per week.
What I love most about my job … When I see students being able to connect what they have learned in class to actually taking care of patients. I also love seeing the huge change in knowledge and confidence of students that I see over the two years they are in the program.
What kind of people do you look up to at work? Who are your mentors? People who can deal with problems and see the big picture. My mentors have been nurses who can take a situation, analyze it objectively, and act upon and lead others to apply solutions. They are confident, assertive and have a strong voice for patients.
Would you recommend a career in nursing to others? Absolutely. There is such a variety of roles and jobs you can do as a nurse. It is constantly changing and there is always something new to learn.
What advice do you have for young people who might be interested in a career in nursing? Try to explore different roles and settings. Shadow a few nurses. Take a nursing assistant class and work as a nurse’s aide to get some experience in working with patients and skills.
What kind of professional development have you had through the years that’s had a significant impact on your work and career? I have my master’s and Ph.D. degrees in nursing. Both of these programs prepared me for a leadership role. The doctorate degree gave me skills for doing research. I feel I have been able to become more like my mentors and have been a mentor to others.
“Terri is a great professor, loved by her students for her background in both clinical and research nursing. This year, Terri was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She endured months of intense chemotherapy and radiotherapy and underwent an extensive surgical procedure. She continued to teach throughout her treatments, and missed only one class. Her students have acknowledged her courage through this process as a model of nursing.”
Campus Health Educator, Madison College
Briefly describe your path to nursing. I believe that my interest in nursing likely started as a young child. My mother went to nursing school right after high school many years ago, although she didn’t complete her diploma program because she eloped and married my father, which was not allowed back then. When it was discovered, she was kicked out of nursing school. She later went on to become a nurse’s aide and worked with people with profound physical and developmental challenges for nearly thirty years. I saw the incredible impact she had on them. When my brother was twelve, he was in a terrible motor vehicle accident. I can remember being in awe of the nurses and how they cared for my brother like he was their own brother. I watched carefully and observed everything they did. My brother’s recovery was long and challenging. Shortly after, my father had a massive heart attack and was placed in an intensive care unit. This year of my life had the most significant impact on my choosing nursing as a career, and having my mother be the caregiver she was certainly opened my eyes to giving compassionate care to those you serve, always.
How has nursing changed over the years? One big change I’ve noticed is how the field is marketed to prospective nurses–in high demand, fair wages, geographic flexibility and more. I’m concerned that we will see an influx of aspiring nurses who are motivated by a different set of factors and values. I worry that those who do not feel nursing is a calling will suffer from burnout and a lack of passion in their work and for the profession.
People would be surprised to know this about my job: The job description is endless. I once taught a student how to use a tampon prior to a swim class. I’ve used a plastic model to demonstrate how to use a condom. I’ve helped fix a leaking colostomy bag. I have role-played with students who have autism on scenarios such as how to ask a girl out for a date and how to stand up to a bully. I think some people think of nurses as those who deliver care, but we really wear many hats–social worker, life coach, financial planner, nutritionist and even home repair specialist.
How do you decompress? I am blessed with four spirited boys who recharge my batteries more often than drain them. I absolutely love to just spend time with them (we actually still play board games together), and we love traveling as a family, both near and far.
I am proud of the fact that we as a family are able to find joy in just time together, and we don’t always have to be going and doing. We have some of our best times just hanging out at home. When I need a good therapist, I turn to plants and flowers. I love doing flowers for weddings, events, gifts and, with four boys, corsages for maybe a prom date! I really enjoy working with my hands in a creative manner, and it gives me time to really think deeply about what matters most in life.
“Anna goes above and beyond expectations. Not only does she take time to see students individually, she educates classes about a wide variety of health-related topics and advises the Recreational Autism Group, which gives extra support and guidance to students with autism. Anna’s capacity for kindness surpasses that of any other nurse I have ever known.”
Prenatal Manager, Access Community Health Centers
Give us a feel for an “average” day on the job. There really is no average day. I love a challenge, and one of the things I’ve always loved about where I work is that no two days are ever the same. As a federally funded, nonprofit clinic, Access Community Health Centers see many individuals with inadequate resources for health care. More than half of the pregnant women we serve are Spanish-speaking, and many women in our program have complex social needs. I am always thinking of what would be the best way to meet the needs of our patients and to provide the best quality of care.
What I love most about my job … I love to hear that our patients have had a positive birth experience by using methods we have taught in class, or have developed long-lasting and supportive friendships with other mothers from our prenatal groups. When moms do well, their children have a better chance at doing well, too. Community health starts with one individual patient or one individual family at a time.
What kind of people do you look up to at work? Who are your mentors? The people I look up to most at work are the ones able to see the strengths in others, encourage the best from them and create a supportive work environment in which people can thrive. They see the bigger picture. One of the great things about Access Community Health Centers is that we have some truly compassionate and visionary leaders who are also grounded in the realities of what our patient population needs to achieve optimum health.
Would you recommend a career in nursing to others? Absolutely! There are so many opportunities in the field of nursing that you are really only limited by your imagination. I know nurses who work in patient advocacy, end-of-life care, high-tech intensive care, birth, anesthesia, teaching and research, public health, travel and the list goes on.
“Access Community Health Centers is at the forefront of prenatal care in Dane County, helping to increase a child’s healthy development and ability to thrive due to the dedication and commitment of Sara Downie.”
Brennan Nardi is editor of Madison Magazine.