As a nurse in adult oncology, Teresa Neal spent more time dealing with insurance companies and paperwork than caring for patients. But all that changed when she walked into St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“It is a different world here. Patients are the most important thing,” she said. That difference is why Neal has continued to work at St. Jude, even after marrying her husband, who has an established law practice in Chattanooga. The Neals split their time between homes in Memphis and Chattanooga, making the six-hour drive to spend the weekends together at one of the homes.
“St. Jude is truly all about the children. It hasn’t ever wavered from that since the hospital was founded,” she said. From the day the hospital opened, families have never received a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food.
When Neal married her husband, Jim, they both agreed that, in spite of the commute, she should remain at St. Jude. Neal lives in Memphis during the week to work four, 10-hour shifts at St. Jude. On the weekends, they spend “every waking moment together. We spend more time together than most married couples,” she said.
I couldn't do anything else. That is where my heart is. It is the sole reason I entered nursing.
Nursing is truly a calling for Neal, who entered the profession after her best friend died from breast cancer in her 30s. She cared for her friend daily until the end and decided she wanted to make that kind of difference for people fighting cancer every day.
“I couldn’t do anything else. That is where my heart is. It is the sole reason I entered nursing,” she said.
The moment Neal became a grandmother, she decided to work in pediatrics. She applied at St. Jude and has been there for six years. “I am not going to leave here,” she said. “St. Jude is built on nurses. They value what we do and applaud us.”
In 2015, St. Jude’s commitment to exceptional nursing care was recognized when St. Jude nursing received the highest honor granted to nursing services nationwide — designated Magnet status by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, which recognizes organizations that provide exceptional care and support of nursing practice. Only 7 percent of hospitals in the U.S. have achieved Magnet status.
For much of her time at St. Jude, Neal has worked with brain tumor patients — most of whom have devastating forms of the cancer. But Neal said St. Jude is equipped to provide the resources families need to deal with the diagnoses and to provide innovative treatment. “As a nurse, I can do as much education and hand-holding as the patients and families need,” she said.
Being there for patients and families is what makes the real difference, Neal said.
“I am totally bought into the mission here. We will do everything in our human power to make it better, one day at a time.”