Nursing is Traci Tannehill’s fourth career.
First, she owned an inventory service, but the hours were too long.
Then she worked as a production manager at a television station, but she quickly learned all she wanted to know about that business.
Next she served as the activities director at a long-term care facility, but eventually she found herself getting, well, bored.
Until, finally, she found her calling. Or, rather, her calling found her.
Tannehill meant to leave her job at the long-term care facility to attend medical school, but her grandmother, an LPN, had other ideas. No grandchild of hers would go to medical school without first getting a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
“Every physician should know the role of a nurse,” she told Tannehill.
As it turns out, the role of a nurse was a role that Tannehill couldn’t leave. She doesn’t care that the hours are long. She doesn’t mind that she might never learn all there is to know. And she’s certain she’ll never tire of comforting patients and families.
“Nursing is a ministry,” said Tannehill, a graduate student at West Virginia University and a bedside nurse in an intensive care unit at Ruby Memorial Hospital. “I love the humanity of it. I’ve loved every day I’ve been at work.”
Tannehill’s passion for her profession was echoed by the dozens of nurses who gathered at Blaney House on Thursday afternoon to take part in the discussion: “Why I am a Nurse.”
The discussion was presented and led by the West Virginia University School of Nursing, as part of National Nurses’ Week, and hosted by President James P. Clements, who had his own up-close look at the role of nurses recently when one of his 15-year-old daughters injured her knee and required surgery.
“From where I stand and what I see, what you do is not just a profession,” he told the nurses, “it’s a way of life.”
This year marks the nursing school’s 50th anniversary and Dean Georgia Narsavage thought it was the perfect time to remind area nurses of the difference they make in the lives of their patients and to reflect on why they chose nursing as a profession.
For most of the nurses in the room, their career was a calling. Some watched their mothers wear the white uniform and longed to wear it, too. Others remember the care and compassion a nurse provided when a family member fell ill, and felt they needed to give back.
Fredona Stenger, a retired WVU faculty member, found nursing in the 1940s when her father refused to send her to law school. She quickly realized that nursing was what she was meant to do.
“It gave me the opportunity to help people in ways that they couldn’t help themselves,” Stenger said.
Stenger’s was a sentiment shared by most every nurse in the room. Whether they worked in research or surgery, in education or practice, at a bedside or at a school, each nurse talked about the need to provide compassion, care and comfort.
The responsibilities of the profession have evolved dramatically from the days when nurses were expected to sharpen needles and stand at attention when a doctor entered a room, but the empathy and integrity of the job has remained unchanged.
“The heroes,” said Jennifer Johnson, a nurse in Ruby’s neurological and neurosurgery unit, “are still the ones at the bedside.”
And, according to Tannehill, the ones in the classroom. She still silently replays the lessons she learned there and credits her professors for teaching her not just how to be a nurse, but how to be a good nurse.
For many of the faculty members in attendance, Tannehill’s words served as confirmation that their work had not been in vain.
“I felt I could do more teaching other people to do what I wanted to do, rather than doing it myself,” Stenger said.
“If you don’t take what you’ve learned and teach someone else, you’re not giving enough to the profession,” Laurie Theeke said.
“I teach because I want people to take care of me,” Gail VanVoorhis said.
And in the perfect circle of life, someone did. When VanVoorhis’ father got sick and was forced into the hospital, one of her former students served as his nurse. The student VanVoorhis had taught to comfort and care would be the one who comforted her and cared for her father.
There was safety in that.
“I went home that night,” VanVoorhis said, “and I went to sleep for the first time.”
By April Johnston
WVU News and Information Services
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