Celebrating National Nurses Week
As we start into National Nurses Week, I have been reflecting on some of the many talented nurses I have known over the years, and I want to thank ALL our nursing colleagues in every corner of Fletcher Allen—for their superb skills, their daily pursuit of excellence, and their commitment to the highest quality care for our patients and families.
My deep personal respect and appreciation for nurses stem in part from several individuals who had much to do with my professional development. In my early years here – 30-plus years ago – I was a wet-behind-the-ears resident who desperately needed the firm hand and guidance of a skilled nurse on many occasions. I also required a great deal of clinical education in my chosen field. I found all this and more in some very special nurses: Loretta Jordan, Mary Ellen Henry, Tottie Finnegan and Connie Jones. All of them taught me so much about working as a team to ensure that our patients receive the best possible care and about the importance of good communication with patients, their families and other team members—not to mention putting me in my place when I occasionally got too big for my britches.
Loretta was an old-time labor and delivery nurse who ruled the unit with her sharp eye and quick wit. She never shied away from speaking her mind. My colleague Sissy Capeless remembers how after giving birth to her son, she mentioned to Loretta that she now had a true Vermonter in the family. Of course, there is some controversy about what makes a true Vermonter – some say you have to be born here, others you have to plan to die here, and still others that seven generations of your family need to have lived here. Regardless, Loretta wasn’t buying Dr. Capeless’s assertion. Her response? “Just ‘cuz a cat has kittens in the oven don’t make ‘em muffins.” Loretta knew more about what was normal and abnormal in labor than any five obstetricians, and she would share her wisdom if you were on her “good side.” It took me a while, but luckily I eventually was and learned more from her about birthing than can be imagined.
Mary Ellen Henry was everyone’s go-to nurse. As a young surgeon, I was continually impressed by her competence, skill and dedication to her patients. When you wanted something done, you called Mary Ellen. She, too, was constantly on the lookout for residents who might be straying from what she considered appropriate care and was quick to kindly, but firmly, educate as to the correct approach.
Tottie Finnegan was an old-style nurse who – in her white shoes, white nursing uniform and white nurses’ cap – truly looked the part. She was a kind, seasoned leader who exemplified superb clinical and organizational skills. Tottie ran Patrick 5 like a Swiss watch and taught me more than anyone besides my patients about what constitutes excellent postoperative care.
After residency, as a young and not-so-young attending, I had the opportunity to be on the forefront of a surgical revolution in gynecology, where we began the drive toward minimally invasive surgery. We accomplished many surgical firsts both for Vermont and nationally. This was an exciting time when we had many publications and many visitors from around the country to observe our new techniques and learn our approach. This was the epitome of a team effort. New equipment, new procedures, new faces and all the while, we needed to maintain the strictest and safest procedures and processes. None of this would have been possible without the entire nursing team in the OR, but especially Connie Jones, who was the assistant head nurse for urology and gynecology. Her support and tireless efforts allowed us to be trendsetters and helped bring a great deal of recognition to all involved and to our academic medical center.
I believe any physician can relate similar formative experiences, and I want to recognize this important contribution – the shaping of physicians in making – that nurses, especially Fletcher Allen nurses, have made and continue to make every day. My enduring thanks to them!