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Marveling at my daughter the nurse

Jan 6, 2014 - By Randy Tucker

I thought that sound was her leaving at 3 a.m., but actually she was just getting home.

The garage door ratcheted itself open just a few feet diagonally to my pillow. I rolled over and checked the clock. 3 a.m. I knew Staci was on call that night and thought she was on her way to assist in a late-night emergency surgery at her hospital in the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. I went back to sleep, but the following morning my tired daughter explained she was on her way home when I heard the door open. A regular occurrence for her, Staci was called in for a surgical procedure in the wee hours of the morning during our visit over Christmas break.

My daughter's quick progression through the medical field is amazing. Always an exemplary student, (suffering a mini-trauma when she receive her first grade other than an A as an undergraduate at Wyoming) she has applied her intellect in a meaningful fashion and in the process has educated her father.

How many of us have the attitude on a visit to a physician's office that the nursing staff is just a bit of window dressing? Someone to take vitals, carry equipment to the doctor, and then stay out of the way? I admit to never realizing how much responsibility and knowledge is utilized daily by nurses across the globe.

During her undergraduate training in Laramie, Staci often would recite what she had learned. With a smattering of biology, physiology and anatomy classes in my own undergraduate education, I was able to keep up -- for awhile. She quickly surpassed my knowledge and hasn't stopped yet.

Nurses are vital components of the medical profession. If medicine were the military, nurses would the sergeants that keep the unit together, a storehouse of education, experience, common sense and a grounding effect for many physicians who sometimes consider themselves infallible but are not and require a bit of balance in their lives.

Staci has favorite physicians she works with and has developed a scale of sorts that is interesting to hear. "Brilliant, the best, a great doctor" rest at the top of her scale, with allowances for "great surgeon but absolutely zero people skills," to "arrogant and clueless" at the bottom of her impromptu system.

I once suggested that she and other nurses should create a scale rating physicians that potential patients could review. Staci laughed and said, "Right, Dad, they'd hunt us down and none of us would ever be nurses again."

Such is the life of nurses everywhere. The good ones are totally committed to their patients, to the physicians they assist and at the mercy of penny-pinching hospital administrators everywhere.

By its very nature, medicine is one of the most=regulated areas of human endeavor. Board certifications for all professional staff, random inspections, government regulations and, ultimately, the market itself guide the path of modern medicine. But perhaps more than anything else, money drives the medical field.

There always seems to be enough money to change the software that runs your local hospital but never enough to fill the nursing staff to regulated standards. How many times have you been asked to fill out your personal information again because a new bigger, better, faster, (fill in the blank) program has just been purchased at a hospital, surgical center or physician's office?

It's rigorous for anyone, but a 25-year-old nurse like Staci faces more of a challenge than more veteran nurses might. When you're young and good at what you do it's common practice to find responsibility dumped on you. You've got the knowledge, you've got the energy and, most of all, you've got the drive for superiors to trust you with responsibilities usually reserved for veterans. But it is a challenge, with people's lives in the balance.

How Staci and thousands of other young nurses do it is a miracle of diligence, dedication and grit. In the end, we all benefit from them, and it should be no surprise that a growing nursing shortage isn't being filled nationwide in spite of an aging population that will require more and more nursing services over the next few decades.

As I write this, Staci is on her last shift as a PACU (post anesthesia care unit) nurse. Monday morning she takes her recent MS in nursing and makes a career change as a nursing instructor at her hospital.

Responsibilities will be different, but her quickly-acquired knowledge, experience and skills will now be shared with dozens of other young nurses just beginning their careers.

Staci did things right, working as a CNA in an assisted care facility while getting her degree and bonding with many of the clients there. Her education at Wyoming was top-notch, as were her experiences working in PACU at Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie. At Ivinson she was offered a position during her internship and began working even before passing the state board.

She moved to Pittsburgh in 2011 with husband Adam and worked as a nurse at a skin cancer clinic with a physician who often received her top accolades. But she missed PACU and soon returned to it on a part-time basis that resembled full time much too often as she earned her master's degree.

Change is a good thing, and in Staci's case it's been a great inspiration for an already motivated young woman.

This next assignment will be a challenge, but just another step in an already amazing journey.

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Editor's note: Staff writer Ranger Tucker is a retired educator.

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