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Carilion nurse Molly Clemons assists Barbara Adams, who is recovering from a knee replacement.
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Jefferson College of Health Sciences professor Ava Porter works with students Kristin Brooksire, left, and Michelle Meier, right.
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Physicians to Children nurse Kathy Jaberg examines 4-year-old Parker Bell.
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Lewis Gale nurse Ryan Poston examines Daniel Albright.
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Oakgrove Elementary school nurse Emelie Moles examines a student.
They often work long hours. Breaks are few and far between. Patients constantly rely on them for recovery and reassurance. Stressful? Sure. But those who choose to become nurses know what they’re getting into. And they wouldn’t change a thing.
“We’re here because we have a passion for caring for others,” says Molly Clemons, a registered nurse (RN) at Carilion Roanoke Memorial.
Their passion does not go unnoticed by patients as well as physicians.
“Nurses are truly the major advocate and support system for both the patient and their families,” says Dr. Joseph Moskal with Carilion Clinic. “Nursing requires a complete approach to patient care, being involved in almost every aspect of a patient’s recovery and well-being.”
And since they “tend not to toot our own horn,” as Ava Porter, associate professor and nursing department chair at Jefferson College of Health Sciences says, we thought we’d do it for them. The following – ranging from students to RNs – exemplify the passion, the dedication and the abilities it takes to be a nurse.
Emelie Moles: School Nurse at Oak Grove Elementary
If she can make a difference in a child’s life, then Emelie Moles knows she is doing her job well.
“You’ve got to be a student’s advocate,” she says. “If you’re not compassionate, then you’re not an effective nurse.”
Moles became a nurse in 1984, something she had always wanted to do thanks to her mom having the same profession. And she always wanted to work with children. Throughout her career, she has worked in labor and delivery, home health, with the health department and at Virginia Western Community College. She eventually settled into a role as a school nurse because “I thought it would be great to work in a wellness setting instead of an inpatient setting.”
Being a school nurse doesn’t mean she has it easy, though. People tend to think of school nurses as “someone who puts a band aid on a knee,” she says, but Moles cares for many children with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes and food allergies.
“You’re sort of an island as a school nurse; we’re the lone medical providers,” she says. “And sometimes we’re the first healthcare provider a student sees and have to do a referral to a doctor, dentist or optometrist.”
When she’s not tending to students, Moles enjoys the teaching aspect of her job. Once a month, she visits classrooms to conduct programs on topics such as hand washing, dental hygiene, lice prevention and sun protection.
Ava Porter: Nursing Department Chair and Associate Professor at Jefferson College of Health Sciences
Ava Porter says there is a buzzword in the nursing field: life-long learning. And she knows this from experience. With almost 40 years of nursing under her belt, she’s practically done it all.
“I took nursing classes my senior year of high school,” she recalls. “Little did I know where the path would take me. I’ve tried it all, and all I’ve done, I’ve loved.”
Porter started her career as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), earned her associates to become an RN, continued to work while raising a family, earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing in the ‘80s, a master’s in the ‘90s and finally her doctorate in the 2000s.
“There are so many things you can do within the profession,” she says. “If you burn out, you can move on to something else.”
Porter has worked in critical care, quality assurance and supervision, rehabilitation consulting and home health care in an administrative position. She has been in academia for the past 13 years.
“Working in education is extremely rewarding,” she says. “We have to get the next generation ready for licensure so they can take care of us one day.”
Porter explains that nursing students at Jefferson learn more than what to do at the bedside of patients. They also must study finance, community health, research, leadership and a new course on interprofessionalism.
“Nurses in the accelerated BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) program take a year-long course with medical students to learn how to work together and draw from each other’s skills,” she says. “Doctors and nurses used to be just thrown together after school. This is a cutting-edge class.”
Porter believes nursing is a “distinct profession” and says nurses are becoming more highly educated and involved in medical research.
“It’s a misconception that all we do is determined by the doctor,” she says. “The doctor makes the medical diagnosis, but nurses deal with all aspects of human response to that illness.”
Molly Clemons: RN at Carilion Roanoke Memorial
Nursing was a calling for Molly Clemons. While in graduate school for journalism she served as a volunteer at Camp Bethel in Fincastle and “fell in love with the older population” that also volunteered there.
This led her to pursue nursing in the orthopedics field because “orthopedics helps seniors stay active,” she says. Clemons participated in an Adopt-a-Nurse program and shadowed a night shift nurse on the orthopedics floor, discovering she liked the fast-pace of the field.
Today, she’s the charge nurse on the floor, making assignments, helping with staffing, and tending to patients. And she loves it.
“Nursing is similar to preaching,” she says. “If you’re not called to do it, you’re not going to like it. I feel so blessed to be here; it’s like having a sense of family. We’re a tight-knit group.”
Clemons says she embraces the challenges of the job, such as keeping patients happy and safe. And when former patients send a note or call to thank her, she is reminded of why she became a nurse.
“Sometimes people only like to give negative feedback, so when you get a specific note about doing a great job, it’s very rewarding,” she says.
After four and a half years in the nursing field, Clemons feels that she’s right where she wants to be. For those just starting out or finishing school, she says she would assure them “there is a spot for you. And there will be plenty of help wherever you go. There are seasoned nurses who like to teach and assist you.”
Ryan Poston, RN at LewisGale
Ryan Poston learned the meaning of patient care while in high school by working at the office of her father, who is a podiatrist. She also experienced the hospital aspect of nursing when her grandmother was battling breast cancer.
“I saw how my dad cared for his patients and helped others,” she says, “And I went with my grandmother to her chemo treatments and also saw hospice care. All of these things drove me to want to do patient care,” also leading to her decision to attend Radford University for their nursing program.
A nurse for four years, Poston primarily works in orthopedics, which she discovered a love for while doing clinicals in school and serving as a nurse’s assistant.
Poston says building relationships with patients can be a challenge, but she knows she’s done her job well upon seeing “the look on a patient’s face after you’ve helped them through a rough time.”
Long hours and balancing life and a nursing career make for a challenge as well, but Poston says having several days off helps her “make the most of my time at home.”
In addition to her nursing duties, Poston also teaches clinicals at LewisGale. She enjoys helping students discover which field they love.
“With my students, I try to get them out there to have experience,” she says. “They each get a rotation to view a surgery.”
She also tells them “the good thing about nursing is you can always switch it up. You can be in nursing your whole life, but can change what field you’re in” to avoid burnout.
Kathy Jaberg, LPN at Physicians to Children
As a high schooler in Ohio in the ‘60s, Kathy Jaberg worked with people with Down’s syndrome. Back then, she says, care for them was minimal, their outlook was dismal and many were placed in mental hospitals. She later worked tirelessly with a parent association to help get those with Down’s syndrome out of mental hospitals and into a group home setting instead.
“They had medical issues that needed to be addressed,” she says. “And I could see them thriving if they received good care.”
Her passion for providing personalized care has led her to many fields in nursing. Jaberg has worked in pediatrics in a hospital setting, served as a private duty nurse and now is an office nurse at Physicians to Children.
Rewards have been plenty in each aspect of her career. She has seen children with special needs thrive. She has helped child abuse cases have positive outcomes. And her current position allows her to help parents understand the importance of immunization.
“I can bring perspective because my father got polio as an infant and was crippled for life,” she says. “I help parents understand the gravity of the situation and that these diseases are preventable. I have empathy for their concerns.”
Jaberg says she believes nursing bridges the gap between the community and the health system. Health-related decisions can be complicated and confusing, she says, and “we can help clarify information that is overwhelming. Sometimes it takes an impartial person like a nurse to get you back on track.”
Thirty-eight years in nursing has shown Jaberg that every type of nurse plays a part on the team.
“I was told that LPNs would be phased out,” she says. “But we all bring something to the table.”
And all nurses are challenged to constantly learn new things and stay on top of the latest trends in medicine, she adds. She hopes that nursing students understand why they want to join this ever-growing field.
“If you’re in it for the money, you won’t stay,” she says. “If it’s for getting a pat on the back for a job well done, you’re going to get more negative response than positive. You have to find your way of doing things, and when the going gets tough, it won’t be the hours, the pay or the kudos that define what you’re doing.”
Michelle Meier, junior at Jefferson College of Health Sciences
Michelle Meier decided to enter nursing school because she wanted a profession that would present something new each day. Currently, she is interested in working with the geriatric population thanks to her work in a nursing home during high school.
“I liked working with the elderly,” she says. “As a junior, I’m just starting clinicals,” so she is aware it’s possible her field of interest will change.
“I’ve heard of people going through clinicals and not liking one field at all,” she says. “You just have to figure it out as you go.’
Nursing school has proven to be a difficult challenge, and practically a full-time job for Meier.
“I had to quit my job because I needed to spend so much time studying,” she explains. “It’s time-consuming, and people fail because time is an issue. Some people think you can go to school, it will be easy and you’ll just go on to make a lot of money.”
Yes, the money is enticing, but Meier says to be a nurse, you “have to be a people person.”
“It has to be something you want to do,” she adds.
Meier says school has shown her just how important nurses are to healthcare as a whole. While doctors may see a patient once or twice a day, nurses see them double or triple that amount.
“We focus more on patient care than the actual disease,” she says. “We’re there to ensure their quality of life. Sometimes nurses are the first to recognize problems because we are around the patient so much.”
Meier hopes to continue her education and become a nurse practitioner. She also wants to work at the VA Medical Center in Salem.
Kristin Brookshire, senior nursing student at Jefferson College
When Kristin Brookshire decided to go into nursing, she was only interested in the job security. But after participating in clinicals her junior year – especially on the labor and delivery floor – she discovered a love for her chosen career.
“I’m so glad it led me to find a career I will really enjoy,” she says. “I thought labor and delivery was something I would never want to do, but when I saw my first birth, I cried. It was awesome.”
Now, her goal is to work in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit), which is where she is doing her practicum.
“I love the intensive care side of things,” she says. “It’s a miracle floor and I would love to be a part of it. In the NICU, physicians are very respectful of the nurses and ask for our opinions.“
Her anticipation to work doesn’t come without fears, though. Patients in the NICU are sensitive, and nurses there have to be extremely careful, she says.
“We’re the last line of defense in health care; errors can be made and if we don’t catch them, it can be life-threatening,” she adds.
Brookshire has appreciated the small classroom settings at Jefferson and the ability to do clinicals through Carilion to prepare for her career.
“The professors know your capability and can work one-on-one with you,” she says. “School can be really tough; you have to be motivated and have self-discipline.”
At press time, Brookshire was set to graduate in December and was anxious to prepare for her licensure exam.