Registered nurses give labor to beloved profession - September 2, 2016

Courtesy of Post-Tribune • September 2, 2016

By Jerry Davich • Contact Reporter

Debra VanWoerden stopped herself mid-sentence to dart into a patient’s room.

“I’ll be right back,” VanWoerden said apologetically before scurrying away.

She disappeared into the hospital room where a woman moaned loudly, as if in excruciating pain. Her moans could be heard throughout the entire hospital wing.

“What’s wrong? Are you OK?” VanWoerden asked gently.

The frightened woman suffered from a racing heart rate.

“We call it tachycardia,” VanWoerden whispered to me. “We’re getting her medication lined up. She’s OK now. What we were talking about?”

Welcome to VanWoerden’s workplace, the third floor of The Methodist Hospitals’ Southlake campus in Merrillville. Technically this floor is called 3W2, the hospital’s medical, surgical and orthopedics wing, where VanWoerden is the nursing manager.

Here, a whirlwind of activity challenges nurses as they perform their daily duties. It’s a well-rehearsed dance, with doctors making their routine calls, incoming and outgoing patients, lost visitors and, on this weekday, a nosy newspaper columnist.

“There’s always something going on here,” VanWoerden said as nonstop bells chimed to alert nurses which patient’s room needs to be visited.

On this Labor Day weekend, I’m recognizing nurses everywhere by shadowing nurses here who, collectively, work around the clock throughout the year. Holidays simply fall into a never-ending rotation of work shifts, many seeping into their personal time.

“Many of us choose to be here because we care about our jobs and our patients,” VanWoerden said in between visits to patients. “This is the career we chose.”

Registered nurses rank fifth in the country of occupations with the largest employment, at 2.8 million and rising, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nationally, the average age of a registered nurse is 50, according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. As America’s population gets grayer, more wrinkled and in need of more professional health care, the projected average growth rate for nursing is 16 percent over the next decade, compared to 7 percent for all occupations.

All it took was a few hours at Methodist for me to better understand that nursing can make other jobs seem more insignificant. Some patients’ cases are life or death, literally. Others highlight quality-of-life issues that get debated by lawmakers. All of them depend on nurses, who keep any hospital running on schedule.

“Doctors can be found at every hospital, but nurses are the true lifeline to patient care,” said Dr. Vijay Dave (pronounced Dah-vay), who’s been on staff at Methodist for more than 40 years. “We cannot do anything without them. They’re the unsung heroes of our two hospitals — and any hospital.”

Dave recalled when one fellow doctor became seriously ill, prompting several nurses to visit his house to relieve his wife from round-the-clock caregiving duties. Dave also rattled off a list of other gestures by nurses that don’t get much publicity.

“Disasters bring out the best in them,” he said Wednesday after his workday ended.

Back at the hospital, where hand sanitizer replaces handshakes, registered nurse Kara Baltz was in the middle of her 12-hour shift, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“Twelve-hour shifts have proven to be more effective for patient care, with patients having only two nurses each day, not three,” Baltz told me as she hustled into a patient’s room.

“Knock-knock,” she said while slowly entering the room. “Can I come in? It’s time to go over your discharge paperwork.”

Sounding like a seasoned pharmacist, not a two-year RN, Baltz went through a checklist of medications the woman needed to take after returning home. When Baltz left the room, she tracked down the patient’s doctor to confirm a future appointment.

“Doctor, is seven to 10 days OK?” she said. “OK, perfect.”

Baltz then arranged for the patient’s transport via wheelchair to the front entrance.

“It’s all about time-management and prioritizing our patients,” said Baltz, a mother of two from Valparaiso who’s working on her bachelor’s degree.

Baltz was recently named the chairwoman of the Professional Development Council, as part of the Nursing Shared Governance.

“It’s where all nurses have a voice to come together to improve quality and the overall patient experience,” explained Sheila Cook, the hospital’s director of acute and critical care nursing.

Among other duties in addition to caring for patients, Baltz creates the weekly work schedule for 19 other nurses in her wing. It’s the management part of a job that’s still based on human interactions, often at a primal level.

“I’ve always had a love of caring for patients and having a personal connection with people,” said Baltz, who credits her older sister for her nursing career.

On the hospital’s fourth floor, Alethia Donald, nursing manager for 4W3, made her routine rounds to oncology patients. The patients receiving chemotherapy were marked by a sign of a green tree on their door.

“It’s so we can take any needed chemotherapy precautions,” Donald said.

One wall featured a photo gallery of nurses’ faces underneath a sign stating I-NURSE. It stands for integrity, nursing excellence, unity, respect, scholar and evidence-based practice.

“These represent our hospital’s overarching vision,” Cook said.

Outside the room of an oncology patient, registered nurse Noemi Rojas studied the patient’s condition on a computer monitor atop a “WOW” cart, which stands for “wi-fi on wheels.” (The staff here used to call it a COW cart, for “computer on wheels,” but it sounded offensive to nearby patients.)

Rojas spoke in Spanish to one Latina patient in need of something to drink.

“It makes her feel more comfortable,” Rojas said.

Cook, who’s been at Methodist for more than 30 years, said, “What you’re seeing here today is a snapshot of what our nurses do each day at both campuses.”

VanWoerden, whose mother is a retired nurse here, started her day at 5:50 a.m.

“I’m not complaining,” she quickly noted. “It’s my choice.”

jdavich@post-trib.com

Twitter@jdavich