They are clinicians. Researchers. Listeners. Advisers. Cheerleaders. They calm patients in their first terrifying moments and walk alongside them for the rest of their treatment journeys. Every patient knows that nurses are the heart and soul of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The 670 nurses who practice at St. Jude offer a unique perspective on the care offered to children and families. Why do these individuals choose to expend their energies at St. Jude instead of somewhere else? Our nurses offer nine simple reasons.
1 - We have freedom to focus.
Surgery is scary; having cancer is scary. In the Recovery Room, I have one patient, and I can focus on that child. I can do everything I need to do with that child, and then I feel like, “Wow, I did a great job!” Families are comforted to know that I’m focusing all of my attention on their child.
One mom once told me, “You know, I used to be anxious about my child during surgery. But when I know that you’re in there, I know she is going to be taken care of.”
Patricia Davis, BSN, RN, CPAN
Operating Room, Recovery
2 - We help families cope.
In a regular hospital, a kid might come in for something like appendicitis, which stresses the family for a short time. But our families have that high stress level for months or years at a time. A couple of days’ stay in the hospital might be no big deal—but when you start doing this long-term, you’re dealing with acceptance. Yesterday, the parents had a perfectly healthy child, and today they have one who has cancer.
We help parents realize that they have to take care of themselves so they can take good care of their child. We help them through this experience, and in the process we sometimes get to see miracles happen. People ask me how I can keep working in pediatric oncology, and I tell them that it’s because of the impact we make on the lives of these families.
John Franklin, BSN, RN
Inpatient, Solid Tumor
3 - Our voice is heard.
After working elsewhere, I can tell you that St. Jude is a great place to work if you’re a nurse. I often tell people that my worst day here doesn’t even compare to my best day somewhere else. At St. Jude, the doctors and nurse practitioners seek out my opinion. I’m on committees where I have a chance to help make important decisions. That’s really refreshing.
Here, I’m part of a team, and they have confidence in my assessment as a nurse. We all work together for the patient.
Nicole Thomas, RN, APHON
4 - We are always learning.
When I came to St. Jude 13 years ago, I had an associate’s degree in nursing. Now, I have a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and two additional certifications. St. Jude supports us as we further our education, and they listen to our ideas.
People ask me all the time, “Now that you have your master’s degree, what are you going to do?” I tell them, “I’m going to continue doing what I’ve been doing—taking care of my patients.” At St. Jude, nurses are respected by physicians and our other colleagues. That means a lot, because we have valuable ideas and experience and opinions to offer.
LeeNedra Jackson, MSN, RN, CNL, CPN
Surgical Services, Sedation
5 - We care for the entire family.
We are there from Day One, when a child arrives as a brand-new patient, all the way through their care. I’m that child’s nurse, no matter where they go in the hospital. Staff members in other areas will call me if they have questions or issues about that child. As a result, patients and parents don’t have to go through their story every time they come to the clinic. As part of that process, you learn things about them—I know that one child needs his pacifier when he gets IV sticks and that he needs a certain teddy bear.
I might get a phone call from a family in Louisiana who needs refills of home medicines mailed to them; I might get a call from a parent who has had a flat tire on the way to the hospital and needs transportation; I might help a sick mom find local medical care while she’s in Memphis. My job is to take care of the children and their families, and I do the best that I can.
Julie Morganelli, BSN, RN, CPHON
Ambulatory Care Unit, Solid Tumor
6 - We embrace the magic of childhood.
On the transplant unit, the families stay from a couple of weeks to months—and I really get to build relationships with them. One patient I particularly liked to take care of is also the sassiest 5-year-old I have ever met. She has big, brown eyes and a mischievous smile. Every day with her morning medications, she would take a pill that was in a blue capsule. This pill was special; it was her “Cinderella” pill. After she took it, she transformed into “Cinderella, the boss princess.”
Every day “Cinderella” would dress up and walk the hallways. One particular day after putting on her fairy wings and crown, she told me to kneel down and close my eyes because she had a surprise for me. She placed a plastic crown on my head and told me that I was now also a princess. We would walk along the hallways until we found a corner to hide behind. When an unsuspecting nurse would walk by, we would jump out and roar!
Maggie Ho, BSN, RN, CPN
Bone Marrow Transplantation and Cellular Therapy
7 - We practice health care like it should be done.
My parents were hospitalized at two different facilities. As a patient, as a family member and as a nurse at another institution, I heard people talk about treating the patient and family. St. Jude truly does that, and it makes a huge difference. I recognized that the first time I ever set foot here. I walked into the lobby and listened to a group of teens talking about their experiences. The atmosphere seemed more family centered than anything I’d seen before. You have kids walking around in their PJs and doing their daily routine. This is their world, and they are doing their thing.
When I go home at the end of each day, I know I have done what I’m supposed to be doing. This is how health care is supposed to work. I think the adult community and the community outside of St. Jude could learn a lot from us.
Tammy Teems, RN
8 - We devote our lives to the mission.
Working in the ICU is stimulating, both mentally and spiritually. During the past 35 years of working at St. Jude, I’ve had the opportunity to see the long-term results of the hospital’s research—I’ve seen where we were and where we are now. The work is difficult, but we also get to see the results of the care that we give individual patients.
It’s exciting when former patients come back to see us. They may not remember us—many times their condition was so critical that they don’t remember anything about that time—but their parents sure do. We can see how we play a part in people’s lives and the impact that our work has.
Michelle Mosby, RN
retired February 2014 from Intensive Care Unit
9 - We are partners in the journey.
When families arrive at St. Jude, they’re often shell-shocked. They may have been told, “Your child has an incurable disease. We don’t know how to treat it, but St. Jude does.”
At first, they think the end of treatment will never come. We love seeing them perhaps 120 weeks later at the last off-therapy visit, when they say, “Well, we never thought we would see this day, but now we almost don’t want to leave St. Jude.” It’s a good feeling when they say that.
Tony Tiscia, BSN, RN, BA
Abridged from Promise, Spring 2014