Celebrating our Nurses through the extension of Year of the Nurse and Midwife
The World Health Organization extended the Year of the Nurse and Midwife through 2021. Here in the Providence Alaska Region, we’re celebrating our nurses through a series of stories from across our ministries. These stories spotlight our nurses, their incredible dedication to our Mission, their profession, and their patients.
Sam Bownlee: Part of a 63-year family tradition of patient care
You could say health care is a family affair. For nurse Sam Brownlee, BSN, RN, his chosen career is part of a collective 63-plus-year family tradition of caring for patients at Providence Anchorage Medical Center (PAMC).
“It definitely felt like coming home,” explains Brownlee of his decision to return to Anchorage in the summer of 2020 after beginning his nursing career a few years earlier in Minnesota. “My parents have worked at PAMC for 30 years.”
Brownlee works nights, caring for patients with life-threatening heart conditions in the hospital’s cardiac intensive care unit. While he doesn’t work the same shift as his respiratory therapist mom, he does periodically see his echo technologist dad – who comes to his unit to perform early morning echo services for patients. And to round things out, his sister just began her career as a respiratory therapist at PAMC.
Having parents that work in the same place meant that he grew up with the hospital always in the background. However, he chose to become a nurse after discovering the wide variety of experiences nurses can have throughout their career as they practice their craft. Early on he had the opportunity to shadow a very experienced ICU nurse that had been at Providence for a long time.
“It really gave me insight into how much nurses have to think independently,” Brownlee said of this early exposure to nursing. “The amount of decisions that this nurse was making on the fly with her patients was just an inspiration.”
At that point, he was hooked. Nursing school soon followed.
“I put my heart into nursing and I’m just so happy it panned out,” says Brownlee. He approaches patient care in the way that his nursing school professors stressed – caring patients in same way you would want your own family members to receive care.
“I always try to make sure I am emotionally available to my patients, so that they feel safe,” he says. “A patient will definitely remember you scratching their back in the right place more than they will remember giving the medication correctly. It’s the personal connection.”
Because he works nights, he typically doesn’t get to say goodbye to patients before they are discharged.
“The one thing that I get a lot of joy out of is coming back and seeing that people are gone, that they’ve gone home and are doing better. That means we’ve done our jobs.”
What he appreciates most about being a nurse is to see how each of his colleagues think and naturally sync up with each other when working together at the bedside.
“With nursing, colleague to colleague, you really learn to appreciate a colleague’s brain more than anything else about them,” Brownlee says. “It really doesn’t matter who you are, it’s how you react and think that’s going to determine the quality of your practice.
For Brownlee, teamwork at its best is about a collective clinical brain coming together and responding effortlessly to what can be complex patient needs. Being a witness to his colleagues, and his family, doing their jobs well just inspires him to do better.
Karin Shacklett: 15 minutes that absolutely matter
At most, Anchorage operating room nurse Karin Shacklett, BSN, RN, has only 15 minutes to personally connect with each patient who comes under her care at Providence Alaska Medical Center.
But to Shacklett, she makes sure those 15 minutes absolutely matter. It’s a challenge that she works hard to embrace during her 12-hour shifts.
"They can feel incredibly vulnerable,” Shacklett says of her patients, just before anesthesia starts to kick in. They’re often nervous. “Anything I can do to affirm that they are going to be ‘best taken care of’ can help.”
Whether tossing in some classic dad jokes, becoming soul sisters or just holding their hand as they go to sleep, Shacklett makes it her mission to figure out how to connect with and comfort her patients in a short period of time.
She readily admits that building a rapport and connection was easier when she was a labor and delivery nurse before coming to Alaska and Providence two years ago. But she doesn’t let the shortened amount of time deter her. And she’s always ready to meet people exactly where they are.
“Most of the time I get the tightest of hand squeezes from the patients you'd least expect, affirming the importance I feel to give every patient everything I have,” Shacklett says.
In her 8-year career, she’s worked in several hospital organizations, including for-profit and non-profit health care. But she’s found that the faith-based Mission at Providence resonates with her own personal mission.
She gets to see people “at their worst and potentially at their best – and most of the time in between the two."
“At the end of the day, fear looks the same in everyone’s eyes. Grief looks the same,” she says. “I’ve been able to see humanity at its most basic form. Seeing that does nothing but evoke empathy.” For Shacklett, that humanity draws her in and drives her to deliver care at a deeper level.
She's quick to point out that while cultural differences and preferences may be different from one patient to the next, “everyone's stomach is the same color on the inside. There's an even playing field, you get to see the value of people as humans and get invited to treat them in an invaluable way.”
Audra McCann: ‘Where I want to be’
At Anchorage’s St. Elias Specialty Hospital, Audra McCann, RN, BSN, is that often-unseen nurse on the other side of the computer screen.
While patient care happens at the bedside, the vast amount of information needed to guide and inform that care is part of the electronic medical record. This is where McCann puts 14 years of nursing know-how to use improving the caregiving experience.
“Having the nursing background makes it easier to communicate (caregiver) needs,” McCann says. “I’ve been there.”
After nursing school, McCann returned to her hometown of Valdez to become a bedside nurse at Providence Valdez Medical Center, the community’s critical access hospital. She quickly grew her experience in multiple acute care nursing specialties, including emergency care and labor and delivery.
“It’s a very difficult type of nursing to do,” McCann says of her time learning all the different nursing roles in Valdez. “It really is and should be considered its own specialty, because you dabble in all of the nursing specialties.”
She would soon switch into a nurse educator role, helping colleagues learn the different types of equipment needed to do their jobs. Though she would eventually become a nurse manager, the nurse educator role introduced her to a new specialty, which would ultimately become her primary focus today.
She now spends her days helping build increased functionality in the long-term acute care hospital’s electronic medical record – enhancing the technology to improve the delivery of safe, evidenced-based, quality care to the hospital’s patients.
McCann sees herself as a bridge and translator between frontline caregivers and the electronic medical record, helping them use it in the best way possible and tweak it for their needs. Part of her job is to make the caregivers’ work in the electronic medical record easier, so that they can ultimately spend more time with patients.
“I can actually find resolutions to their issues – ‘just click on this over here’ and their world lights up.”
If there currently isn’t a way to do what the nurses and providers want to do in the electronic medical record, she helps figure out how to take things to the next level. Sometimes that can be as simple as reducing what was 10 clicks on the keyboard down to two.
“I really like to support the frontline caregivers and give them what they need to take care of their patients,” McCann says, “That’s where my passion lies, to support the caregivers and help ease their way so that they can do what they love – spending time taking care of their patients.”
Recently a provider stopped to share just what McCann’s help creating templates for her notes in the electronic medical record meant to her practice. Instead of entering information twice, the provider was able to use her notes to document needed information into other parts of the medical record.
"You know, in this way, you are helping to save lives as well,” the provider told her. “The less time we spend writing notes or copying things over, the more time we are with patients.”
While she misses providing direct bedside care as a nurse from time to time, that praise confirmed her mission of support to caregivers as they care for patients.
McCann knows that frontline nurses can be the “bright light” to the patients in their care and can be the ready set of ears for patients to share their story.
“If there is anything I can do in the background, so that they can have those experiences, that’s where I want to be,” she says.
Ruben Medrano: Wearing a calming presence as a badge of honor
Eleven years ago, everything clicked for Providence Alaska Medical Center (PAMC) nurse Ruben Medrano, BSN, RN. A nursing school instructor introduced him to one of his nurse superpowers, something he uses each day while at work in the hospital’s emergency department.
While in his last semester at the University of Texas in El Paso, his instructors put him and his classmates through an acute care simulation meant to test how they responded to a chaotic situation. The challenging simulation gave the students intentional exposure to real-life acute care scenarios that included cardiac arrythmias, code carts and the need to shock a patient’s heart into normal heart beating rhythm.
“They try to throw everything they can at you to make it as confusing as it can be,” Medrano explains. But what he remembers most is what his instructor told him afterwards. “You seemed to exhibit a really calm presence,” the instructor told him. “We watched you live. Whatever was going on, you kept the energy level in the room calm and coordinated.”
That was the first time he had heard that about himself, but it’s not the last.
He’s received that feedback throughout his 11-year nursing career. For Medrano, it’s a badge of honor that he wears with pride and one that grounds his practice as an emergency department nurse at Providence.
The constant unknown and unexpected nature of emergency medicine makes it “easy to get up in the morning and come to work,” Medrano says.
“Every day is just totally different,” he says. “It can be a day where not a lot is happening, then you come in on a different day and hit the ground running and it’s literally non-stop for a full 12 hours.”
While he may be wired for calm and variety, his heart is definitely tuned to the people in his care. He quickly discovered that as a nursing student while training in a local Texas hospital and is reminded of that each day at Providence.
The nature of emergency medicine means he doesn’t have a lot of time to get to know his patients. But he’s thankful for the time he can truly be present with them. Those moments refuel his interest and passion for nursing when the work is hard.
“You meet people on their worst day,” he says. “Being available for someone really hit home for me and hit me in my heart. This is the one thing that has kept me in it.”
He and his now wife discovered Providence Alaska Medical Center as traveling nurses five years ago. They had the opportunity to experience other hospitals in various parts of the country but chose to stay at Providence after learning the values of the hospital and all the resources available to patients. They both work in the emergency department, though on different shifts. A two-year-old son keeps one parent home while the other works.
“Everybody just shows up, works together and gets through the day as a team,” Medrano explains. He’s a witness to his coworkers’ daily commitment to doing everything possible to save the lives of their patients – doing what Medrano describes as both physically and emotionally demanding work.
“Nobody bats an eye or hesitates,” Medrano says. “That’s just very inspiring.”
Medrano wants his community to know what awaits them should they need emergency care.
“Know that we’re always here for you, no matter what the situation or problem is,” he says. “There is going to be a caring hand and a caring voice to help you navigate.”
Gaylee Newbold: Finding Enlightenment, Moment by Moment
Becoming a new parent can be life changing.
Ask Gaylee Newbold, RN at Providence Alaska Medical Center’s Mother Baby Unit and she’ll tell you. “The best part of my job is when somebody’s life has changed,” Newbold explains. The moments can appear simple and small, like when a new mom struggles to get a newborn to breastfeed for the first time.
“You go in and get the baby to latch on and the baby eats for the first time,” Newbold explains. “The mother is just so extremely grateful.”
Those life changing moments are just part of her 12-hour shift. “Even though it’s not that big of a deal, to them it is.”
Newbold has seen this scenario hundreds if not thousands of times, throughout her 25-year career as a nurse.
Now, as a charge nurse, she has seen similar looks of struggle on the faces of new nurses. “You help them, you give them a new idea and a different perspective and it’s life changing for them,” she explains of the times when she helps new nurses work through early challenges.
For Newbold, these small “moments of enlightenment” are what she enjoys most. She’s doesn’t remember making a conscious decision to go into nursing as a career. It’s just something that has been a part of her since she was young. For Newbold, caring for others was just part of growing up in a large family.
“It’s who I am and who I’ve become,” Newbold says. “I don’t think you can separate me as a person from me as a nurse. It drives how I think about things and how I approach different situations.”
And though she’s worked in medical oncology, emergency, and other nursing specialties, it’s not surprising that she’s spent the past 13 years of her career in the mother-baby unit.
“I probably started changing diapers when I was 7 or 8,” Newbold says. She remembers her eighth birthday – the very same day her mom brought one of her little brothers home from the hospital. From that moment on, her little brother was her sidekick.
“I would get him up in the morning and get him dressed,” Newbold says. “I would feed him breakfast.” Now she helps new moms and dads learn how to care for their newborns.
“I love being able to pull the dads into it – ‘hey dad, come over here and I’ll tell you how to swaddle and burp the baby.’”
She enjoys watching the dads grow their confidence as parents – helping them “feel empowered to pick up their baby – to burp them and feed them.”
She occasionally runs into some of her patients in the grocery store where she has heard the exclaims of “Oh my gosh, you were my nurse!” Catching up with them and hearing how their babies are doing are enjoyable moments for Newbold.
“What inspires me is that I can make a difference for other people,” Newbold says. “It inspires me that one coworker said to me, ‘When I grow up in my nursing life, I want to be just like you.’”
Marlyce Cozart: What makes her heart happy
For nurse Marlyce Cozart, RN, checking in with residents at Providence Chiniak Bay Elder House on Kodiak Island is like visiting favorite family members.
“I’m out there pretty much every day,” Marlyce explains about her work of coordinating information for the care plans for each of the long-term care center’s 22 residents and her passion for being part of their lives.
“Just to say hi and get some good smiles and laughs. It’s just an everyday thing with me. They’re just like family. We discuss everything and anything and all kinds of things.”
For Cozart that adds up to decades of smiles and conversations. She recently celebrated her 40-year work anniversary at the center.
“I have two daughters,” explains Cozart. “They pretty much grew up here. A lot of residents felt like they were their grandchildren.” After having her second child, one resident came to the nursery at the nearby hospital to see the baby.
As much as the center’s residents have been part of her life, she also enjoys being part of their lives.
“The residents here all have such a special quality about them,” Marlyce says. She enjoys getting to know them and helping them be as peaceful and happy as they can be in the last few years of their life.
Her daughters and her late husband have each volunteered at the center. Now her dog continues the family tradition, coming to work with her as a therapy animal two to three days a week.
Cozart is often the first person a new resident meets when they arrive at the center. She completes new resident assessments and starts their care plans. For most residents, it’s their last home.
“A few times I thought I could retire and travel. But you know, those are just momentary things,” she says. “When you work in long-term care, you keep getting rewards over and over. As long as I have the mind and body, I’ll just keep going.”
Her work and the relationships she has with residents and her colleagues brings her everyday happiness.
“So many people have gotten into my heart and my life,” Cozart says. “God just put me here to be with elders and lift their day, every day. This is where I’m meant to be. It makes my heart happy.”
Andreia Paulozzi Candido: Keeping close to the patient & nurse
For Andreia Candido, MSN, APRN, AGCNS-BC, health care definitely runs in the family.
She grew up in Brazil with the nearby influence of five doctors in her family. Along with her cardo-thoracic surgeon brother, there’s also a plastic surgeon, two cardiologists and a psychiatrist.
“I’m the only nurse,” says Candido. “They tried to persuade me at the beginning of my college (to become a doctor),” says Candido. “You still have time to come back,” they would tell her.
But she chose another path. She remembers gaining that career clarity in high school.
“I saw a cardiac arrest,” Candido recalls of a visit to an ICU as she was job shadowing a nurse. While the nurse she was shadowing tried to pull her away from what she thought might be a stressful moment for a high school student, she was drawn to it. “I was able to see all that movement and adrenaline.”
She went home that night having made nursing her career choice. She earned her BSN and worked as a bedside nurse for five years in Brazil before moving to Boston where she continued her work as a bedside nurse for another five years.
“I really like to stay with the patient,” she says. “I have this thing; I like to care for people and be close. I want to be with the patient all the time. That’s my goal.”
She moved to Anchorage three years ago after completing her master’s degree in nursing and earning her Advanced Practice Nurse credentials in Massachusetts. She joined Providence Alaska Medical Center (PAMC) as a clinical nurse specialist, one of four advanced practice nurse specialties.
“Our goal is to improve patient outcomes through daily rounds, bedside coaching, research and quality improvement,” says Candido.
Candido and a handful of other clinical nurse specialists help the hospital manage clinical change and keep pace with an always-evolving clinical practice. As a clinical nurse specialist, she influences and supports patient care, nursing, and systems of care at the hospital.
“We are a bridge between research, technology and the bedside nurse,” says Candido. “We bring innovation to the bedside nurse.”
Her department areas of focus at PAMC include the progressive care unit, renal care unit and dialysis suite.
“I love my career. I love my job,” Candido recently told her mother on the phone. “It’s something I say every day,” she says.
She’s proud to be a Providence caregiver and was attracted to the hospital’s constant focus on quality.
“They’re wonderful here,” says Candido. “They are constantly looking forward to improve the quality of care for patients as well as to improve the experience of the caregiver.”
She’s still drawn to codes. In fact, she chairs the hospital’s code committee. Recently she was instrumental in adding a new process step to support nurses who weren’t feeling well after a code. The change involved adding a debrief step and revising a form to make that debrief process clearer and easier to accomplish.
“Processes are very important,” says Candido. “But we need to think that people are more important than process. People are way more important.”
Christine Cothran: Taking care of families for 33 years
For Christine Cothran, BSN, RN, the best part of being a bedside nurse and charge nurse at Providence Alaska Medical Center (PAMC) is getting to know her patients and being part of their lives.
“You really develop a relationship with these people, their families and their extended families,” says Cothran. “You know their crazy uncle Frank and what he did at the wedding – and that kind of stuff.”
She and a core group of nurses take care of patients in the hospital’s 12 medical oncology beds, part of a larger 46-bed medical unit at PAMC. Patients typically return to the hospital for multiple rounds of inpatient treatments over time. Sometimes the relationships between nurse and patient are measured in weeks and months – not just one acute episode. Sometimes, the duration is much longer.
With one patient, Cothran learned they shared a love of travel. When she walked into his room, she got into the habit of asking “Where are we going today?” as a way of helping him get through what were long periods of boredom for him during his cancer treatment. He would respond “I don’t know, where do you want to go?”
From that launching point at each visit, a destination was determined, and his care experience changed.
“He would be my travel agent,” Cothran explained. “He would research all the cool places that I’d have to go to and visit someday. He would find me restaurants and a hotel. By the end of several days of treatment, he would have a trip planned for me.”
They traveled all over the world in the six years as he went through episodes of cancer treatments on her unit. Even though this patient died 10 years ago and Cothran remains in contact with his mother. “When he passed away, his mom asked me to speak at his funeral,” Cothran said.
“I just love my job,” Cothran says. “I love making a difference. When I show up, and one of my patients has a new diagnosis, I say ‘you know, I’m going to help you through this. I’m going to take care of you, and I’m going to take care of your family.’”
While she helps patients and families through treatment, Cothran’s colleagues – her work family – help her through challenges and inspire her to learn new ways of connecting and caring for patients.
But her real family isn’t far away. Her husband is a nurse in the recovery room and her son is an intensive care nurse. “It’s so cool. My husband gives my son reports sometimes when he takes patients up to the ICU.”
“A lot of times I can come home and talk to my family and debrief,” Cothran says. I’m fortunate in that.”
Many of her patients are toward the end of their lives. But that hasn’t always been the case. Sometimes, the job brings the unexpected, as she learned one day while wheeling a discharged patient to the parking lot after a treatment.
“All of a sudden we see the car driving up to the front door and lobby,” she remembers. A man jumped out of the car yelling, “I need help! I need help!”
Cothran started running to the car. About halfway there, she recalls the man saying, “it’s coming.” She knew right then what was about to happen; A woman was delivering a baby in front passenger seat of the car. By the time Cothran got to the car the baby’s head was already out. She helped deliver the baby the rest of the way into the world before going back to work on the medical oncology unit.
At that baby’s christening, Cothran was honored to be one of the godmothers.
Cothran moved to Alaska with her family in the 70s. Her father was a bush pilot. She volunteered as a high school student at PAMC and went to nursing school in Anchorage.
“When you walked in (to PAMC), you got this great sense of calm, safety, and security,” Cothran remembers of her first visit to the hospital. “It just felt comfortable.”
Thirty-three years after starting her career at Providence, she’s still working in the same unit. She can’t imagine it any other way.
“I think of myself as pretty fortunate to get to do this job,” Cothran says.
Kelly Mahay: Helping nurses start their acute care careers
Kelly Mahay, BSN, RN, CMSRN, WCC, remembers when she wanted to become a nurse.
Fresh out of college and armed with a health sciences degree with a focus on rural public health, Mahay traveled to Honduras to do community health assessments in a small, remote village with no more than 100 residents.
She signed up to work alongside a nurse who was helping the village set up its own community health clinic in a tiny little schoolhouse powered by a generator.
“She was probably one of the bravest women I’ve ever met,” Mahay said of the nurse’s work in a place that Mahay described as one of the most impoverished areas in the world.
While Mahay asked questions about clean water, food resources and nutrition, her nurse partner and leader empowered women in the village to become the enduring network of caregivers for the community. Her nurse mentor was effectively putting the women of the village through the equivalent of a two-year nursing school program, Mahay said.
Watching one nurse deliver hands-on care and teach a village to effectively care for itself, inspired Mahay to return to school to become a nurse.
She earned her undergraduate nursing degree in Anchorage and did clinical rounds on Providence Alaska Medical Center’s (PAMC) medical oncology unit, where she would later start her career as a staff nurse and then become a charge nurse. Five years into her 14-year career at Providence, she became a clinical nurse educator on the unit.
“I fell in love with Providence and fell in love with the people in this unit,” Mahay says.
“We have nurses on this unit that have been here 30 to 45 years. Now I get to help shape new nurses who come onboard here.”
Now she supports new nurses in medical oncology and med-surg through the hospital’s academy training programs and has a role in leading competency training for IV pumps and central line management for all nurses at the Anchorage hospital.
She’s passionate about helping nurses discover the best and safest way to do things and helps the hospital develop and implement new patient care practices and procedures.
“What I enjoy the most is those one-on-one education moments on the unit,” Mahay said of her role as a clinical educator. Just as her mentor helped train a village of nurses in Honduras, Mahay’s there to witness new nurses’ journeys at PAMC.
Her path as a nurse now includes going back to school to become a family nurse practitioner.
“I want to further develop myself, but I want to be a better asset for my family,” she says.
“I want to take care of my community and family in a bigger way.”
For Mahay, who grew up in a rural town in West Virginia, that may eventually mean working in a more remote and rural setting, and focusing more on preventative and primary care for patients.
“I’ve been given every opportunity for growth and development,” Mahay says. “Providence gives you the path, you just have to seek them out and look for those opportunities. I want to be one of the nurses that get that 25-year plaque, too.”
“I’m not the same person I was when I started in this institution,” she says. “I’ve grown so much.”
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