National Nurses Week: Nurses show a love of job in difficult times

Published 7:01 am Wednesday, May 6, 2020

A visit to a hospital or a clinic will always include a nurse who will take you through the process of trying to figure out what could be ailing you.

Nurses are often considered to be the backbone of the medical profession with its roots traced back to the first nurse — Florence Nightingale, who instituted strict hand-washing and hygiene practices when dealing with wounded soldiers in the Crimean War, which helped reduce the death rate from 42 percent to 2 percent.

Today is National Nurses Day, which also begins National Nurses Week, May 6-12, ending on Nightingale’s birthday.

The day was first observed in 1954, marking 100 years since Nightingale’s work in the Crimean War. In February of 1974, President Richard Nixon proclaimed National Nurses Week to be held each May, followed by the proclamation by President Ronald Reagan in 1982 that May 6 would be observed as National Nurses Week.

According to the National Today website, there are over 3 million nurses in the United States, making up the highest percentage of workers in the healthcare field.

Polly Drenth is a 26-year veteran in the nursing field, working as an RN in the Infusion and Chemotherapy Center at Mayo Clinic Health System in Austin. Throughout those years, working in nursing has been nothing but a joy.

“I’ve always loved my job there,” Drenth said. “I love the people, I love the patients, I love the staff. I’m very connected to the job.”

“I feel very connected to Mayo at large over the past 26 years,” she continued. “I’m very happy about the career choice. I love chemo and infusion. It’s just where I belong and my passion’s there. Very connected to the people and you do see them over and over. They become family.”

Kellie Peterson is the Mayo Clinic nurse manager for southeastern Minnesota oncology and infusion centers and spent the first 25 years of her career as a nurse in Albert Lea. She was bedside until last July, when she was promoted to her current position.

During that run, she’s been working with oncology patients for 17 years. Over that time, she’s seen and been a part of the good work nurses are doing every day, experiencing the sense of warmth they get when treating patients.

“It goes right back to the patient with how you can provide care and service and then they treat you as a member of the family,” Peterson said. “Being able to help gives me a good warm feeling.”

At the same time, it’s a profession that requires flexibility. Ever changing, the field of nursing keeps its nurses on their toes daily.

“It changes every day,” Drenth said. “There’s nothing that’s a guarantee in nursing. You have to be very flexible. Patients get added on for various reasons on the schedules and then people are removed quickly because their schedules are not fitting into their treatments.”

All of that can hinge on whether patients need different treatments or maybe need to have their treatments ended because their charts come back positive.

“It could be the labs have improved so greatly they don’t need the treatment,” she said. “It can be positive. We always hope for good lab work.”

Technology has advanced at an incredible rate, one of the many things nurses have adapted to over the years. Even something so simple as documentation has changed radically.

“When I first started, we were doing paper documenting,” Peterson said. “We didn’t punch a time clock, we had a sheet and we would sign our initials if you were there that day.”

Peterson was unsure if she wanted to move from her position of nursing on the floor. She didn’t want to stray from caring for patients, but as she thought about it, that caring simply took on a new twist.

“This change over from bedside to nurse manager wasn’t something I was first sure of,” she said. “I’m still taking care of patients but now I’m taking care of the nurses and making sure they have what they need to take care of the patients.”

Being a nurse takes hard work and probably none will agree with that more than the doctors themselves, Peterson said.

“We sometimes know the patients more than they do and patients will oftentimes share things with nurses that they don’t with providers,” Peterson said.

The nurse’s jobs have gotten even more complicated as COVID-19 has swept through the country. There’s no place for them to be other than the frontline. Pressures have ramped up nationwide as hospitals and clinics rush to get personal protection equipment and make sure they have enough in stock to last them.

Hospitals have also put restrictions in place to limit exposure for both hospital staff and those who would be visiting either for procedures or seeing a loved one.

But for departments like oncology, those treatment’s need to continue.

“It’s a full patient load,” Peterson said. “We don’t decrease visits, because cancer patients still need cancer treatments. They work through, using personal protection equipment to do that care. That was hard for them with all the changes and with not knowing what they needed originally.”

That has been true across the board. In Austin, the unit Drenth works in had to be moved temporarily from its position close to the ER to an unused portion of the hospital to make room for the ER, which needed more space.

That’s not the only hiccup in daily routines as nurses in both Albert Lea and Austin have had to adapt in a number of different ways. That includes that patients have all the information they need daily.

“Patients have to adjust and they are doing well. The patients do fabulous,” Drenth said. “They go with the flow. The key to everything is keep them informed.”

During this time, patient screenings have gone up to ensure they do not have COVID-19 before coming in. This is done over a phone and includes a mandate that chemo patients must have a COVID-19 test before the next cycle of chemo.

“There’s a lot more paperwork and getting them set up in the COVID screening, getting them to the tent and waiting for the results to come in so we can call them in,” Drenth said. “There’s more phone calls and again (patients) are fine with it as long as they are informed. And then things go smooth.”

But the nurses have stepped up. Peterson has recognized that and the pride that comes with it.

“They have,” Peterson said. “I think they’ve done a fantastic job. There’s been a lot of extra details and work to arrange for some patients to come get their treatments.”

Peterson has taken an active role in making sure nurses know they are appreciated, falling easily into the spirit of National Nurses Week.

“It’s nice to be able to let them know you are thinking of them and the services that they provide,” Peterson said. “I spent Monday making little gifts for nurses. It gives me the time to reflect about each nurse and their good strong qualities and their uniqueness. Just the smile that it gives behind their mask. You get to see their eyes sparkle.”