9 Nurses Reflect On Their Most Memorable Days


By Anuja Vaidya

Nine nurses share long-lasting memories from life on the job.

Question: What was your most memorable day on the job?

Kelly Hulsey, RN. Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital: Speaking as a nurse whose career has spanned over 30 years, I certainly have a number of very memorable days and all for different reasons. However, I would have to say that the most momentous and memorable day for me was Sept. 11, 2001. I had come to work that Tuesday morning, as usual, thinking about my daily commute, what my children were doing that day at school, and so on.

At that time in 2001, I was in an administrative supervisor role, and my responsibilities took me all over the hospital, interacting with both patients and staff in a number of settings. The images from television, the looks on my co-workers' faces, the preparations that we began to undertake for the unknown as the day unfolded — all these remain very vivid in my memory. It is rare in a lifetime that you wake up in one world and go to sleep in a very different one.

Trish Celano, RN. Senior Vice President, Associate Chief Clinical Officer and Chief Nursing Executive at AdventHealth (Altamonte Springs, Fla.): My most memorable day came early in my career when I was working as a night shift nurse in the emergency department at AdventHealth Orlando. I was on my way to work when I stopped at a red light at the exit ramp off the interstate to the hospital. Many people experiencing homelessness were known to congregate at that spot and often approached our cars as we waited for the light to turn green. Drivers, many of whom worked at the hospital, would roll down their windows and hand them a variety of items — water, sandwiches, socks, toothpaste, you get the picture.

One evening, I rolled down my window and gave one of the gentlemen a bag with a sandwich and bottle of water. Expecting to see him that night, I had prepared this bag for him and had it ready. Our exchange takes place in a matter of seconds. 'Here you go buddy,' I said with a smile. 'God bless you ma'am,' he replied.

It was a typical night at work with patients being admitted for a wide range of issues — from indigestion to cardiac arrest. Six hours into the shift, I got a call to attend to a newly admitted patient. I entered the room, pulled the curtain back surprised to see a familiar face. Lying there was the man from my earlier exchange on the exit ramp. There, behind the curtain in my ED, was Jim.

He had a name. Of course, he always had a name, I just didn't know it. No longer was he a man on the street; he was now my patient. As nurses, we tend to compartmentalize our work as a function of self-preservation. However, the irony of coming face-to-face with a man to whom I had extended a simple act of kindness hours before reminded me of the importance of bringing humanity into our everyday work.

This day reminded me that it's about more than just mending what's broken; it's about providing whole-person care to all members of the community — body, mind and spirit.

Michelle James. Executive Director of Providence Nursing Institute (Renton, Wash.): My most memorable day on the job was many years ago, and I was working as a certified nursing assistant at a skilled nursing facility, and I had my licensed practical nurse license that I was not able to use without a registered nurse supervisor. My mother is also a nurse, and she was the RN administrator at the skilled facility. And when I arrived at work, she took my 15-patient CNA assignment and allowed me to be the nurse on duty to practice my nursing skills. That summer my mother, the RN administrator, taught me what a servant leader is.

Kristin Christophersen, DNP, RN. Chief Nursing Officer at Fountain Valley (Calif.) Regional Hospital & Medical Center: I think every CNO can think of a time when a disaster hits and the immediate response needed to stabilize the organization for patient safety. I've had a couple of 'most memorables' in that area. With that said, when I see the nursing staff diligently working to protect their patients and when achievements are gained, such as trauma accreditation or comprehensive stroke accreditation, those are [also] memorable times.

There is also one more day that really sticks out for me — the day I did my final defense presentation for my doctorate. I was elated! It was finally over! And the cherry on the top was when my trauma surgeon came to my office and congratulated me as 'Dr. Christophersen.' He still calls me this, and it demonstrates the recognition of advanced nursing as a partnership.

Brittany Kickel, RN. Chest Pain Coordinator, Stony Brook University Heart Institute at Stony Brook (N.Y.) Medicine: While there are many, my most memorable day at the Stony Brook University Heart Institute took place back in 2014. Nearly at my one-year mark as an RN, while working in the cardiac stepdown unit on the night shift, a long-term patient's prognosis on our unit was quite poor after he had fallen into the final stages of congestive heart failure. The patient had no family or friends to lean on for support and/or to even make decisions for him once he became incapacitated.

The heart institute staff did everything we could to not only treat the patient as a hospice patient with compassionate care, but treat the whole person. The patient was a fixture in the unit for some time, and each team member had taken care of and, most importantly, gotten to know the patient in a meaningful way.

On this particular shift where the patient's death was imminent, the staff of mostly novice nurses came together to provide care that not only provided comfort but dignity. We played the patient's favorite Beatles album on one of the iPhones, went to the gift shop to purchase stuffed animals for his bed and stayed around his bedside, taking turns talking to him, hoping that he would be soothed as he took his final breaths.

This is far from an uplifting memory; however, it is impactful enough to remind me why I chose this profession. Nursing is so much more than the task-oriented and physically demanding nature it exudes on a regular basis. We have the honor and privilege to provide holistic care to patients and their families. When we look beyond the disease, like we did with this patient six years ago, there is no greater reward both as a nurse and as a human being.

Melissa Barnes, RN, BMTCN. Nurse Manager, 4B Hematology/Transplant and Cellular Therapy Unit at Atrium Health's Carolinas Medical Center (Charlotte, N.C.): We once had a patient who spent months in our unit, and we developed a special bond with him and his entire family. Often during the cancer care continuum, I've noticed [family] caregivers sometimes forget to take care of themselves.

Toward the end of his time with us, we found out his wife was going to be celebrating her birthday. She had been an integral part in all his care and was truly her husband's best advocate. I worked with their daughter to organize a surprise party for her in the unit's family room. I also reached out to our staff to collect money for a gift. The generosity of the team allowed for a gift card for a full spa day at a luxurious spa nearby.

On her birthday, the family room was full of her friends, family and many of our staff who came in on their days off. She was so surprised and thankful. It was so fulfilling to provide a caregiver with a much-needed break and celebration. This was my most memorable day on the job.

Kelli Hohenstein, RN. Chief Nurse Officer at Dallas Regional Medical Center (Mesquite, Texas): As a healthcare leader, I have seen so many accomplishments that have brought forth great days to remember. My most memorable day was when I received my promotion to CNO. This allowed me to effectively lead people in efforts to create a strong workplace that could drive positive trends as seen by financial profitability, a collaborative and supporting culture, staff and physician engagement, retention and patient satisfaction.

Christina Hutchinson. Vice President of Nursing at Prime Healthcare (Ontario, Calif.): My most memorable day on the job was when I was a nurse in the cardiac transplant service. I was standing next to a cardiac monitor, and I noticed that a patient was in torsades, a fatal cardiac arrhythmia. I ran into the room and treated the rhythm disturbance with the code team.

The patient was on the waiting list for cardiac transplant. He told me that day after he was stable, 'Christina you never know what each day brings. I was a teaching a class last week, and today I wait for someone to die so I can live.' He then asked me, 'What is something you have always wanted to do but never have?' I replied, 'Learn to horseback ride.' He said, 'Well, my wife's friend teaches horseback-riding, and you are going to check that off your bucket list next week.'

Twenty five years and many horses later, I still remember those words, especially during times of stress.

Michelle L. Edwards, DNP. System Senior Vice President for Advanced Practice at CommonSpirit Health (Chicago): The good news about my job is that I have had many 'most memorable' days since starting my job at Catholic Health Initiatives over six years ago. The most challenging part of responding to a question like this is selecting just one of them to share. For example, I remember Jan. 6, 2014, as though it was yesterday. Why? Because it was truly a notable experience for me — my first day on job as the new national vice president for advanced practice.

It was a brand-new position for the health system, and we believe it was the first position of its kind in the country, particularly for an organization as large as CHI. Never before had an organization sought to provide executive-level leadership for designing and implementing an organizational strategy focused on optimizing the role of advanced practice providers.

As a nurse practitioner, I was, and remain, incredibly grateful to have been given the gift of leading this important work, and doing so in an environment where I was able to work alongside exceptionally talented people and visionary thought leaders who were committed to transforming healthcare across the U.S.

Fast forward to February 2020. We have just celebrated the one-year anniversary of the merger of Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health, forming the nation's largest nonprofit healthcare ministry, CommonSpirit Health, which operates 137 hospitals in 21 states. What a great opportunity, and responsibility, to make good on our continued commitment to ensuring all people have access to high quality, safe, efficient and cost-effective care.


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