Photo by Jerry Gay
May 6th through 12th is National Nurses Week, an opportunity for Swedish Medical Center and the Ballard community to thank and honor the roles nurses play not only as expert clinicians but also as leaders as healthcare is transforming. Pictured above are Executive Nurse Jennifer Graves, Lisa Anderson, Colleen Clancy, and Glenda Butler. CLICK ON IMAGE TO SEE ANOTHER PICTURE.

National Nurses Week: Swedish/Ballard puts nurses in the spotlight

Swedish Medical Center in Ballard has 470 employees, 162 of whom are registered nurses. They are some of the first people we see when we visit the hospital and the ones we spend the most time with. From changing bed pans to helping mothers birth their children, nurses play a vital role in our nation’s health care. In fact, with almost three million registered nurses nationwide, they make up the largest group of health care professionals. 

During National Nurses Week we have the opportunity to put them in the spotlight and recognize them for their contributions to the health care system as well as our community. 

National Nurses Week is celebrated annually from May 6th through May 12th, which was the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of the modern nursing profession. 

"National Nurses Week is an important week for our profession. It's an opportunity to honor their roles not only as expert clinicians but also as leaders as we transform healthcare in the US," said Jennifer Graves, Nurse Executive at Swedish/Ballard. 

Now more than ever, RNs, both nationally and here at Ballard, are stepping up by increasing quality of care and influencing decisions. Health care reform and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 have expanded opportunities for nurses to provide primary care and wellness services and serve as key participants in new and innovative patient-centered care systems. 

"They are in a position to assume leadership because they are with the patients the majority of the time," Graves stated. "I see an immense opportunity for the profession in the future. I see the nurses taking a larger role in health care delivery and driving the decision making. I see more nurses-run clinics in the community, and educating nurses at the Masters and Doctoral level to gear the direction of healthcare in the future. Nurses collectively have been making a difference by moving outside the four walls of a hospital and in taking care of a population before they get sick."

May marks Graves' 25th anniversary of being in nursing, and said she still absolutely loves her job. 

"I knew very early on that I wanted to be a professional nurse. My parents were always very connected in the community and stressed the importance of volunteering," Graves said. "My mom volunteered for a mental health crisis line and I recognized how much of a difference she was making just by being there. It was a powerful observation." 

As a child Graves was also a Candy Striper, volunteering in a local hospital and making patients' stays more comfortable. 

"I learned that the simple things could have a profound impact on someone," Graves said. 

She learned this lesson again when working with people who were dying. 

"It's been a real privilege for me to be present with someone as they are passing, and making it as good an experience as possible for both the person and their family," she said. "I remember when I first was in that situation, I worried about what I could possibly do for this person when death is inevitable. But you make a difference even by just holding that person's hand, being there for the family, or bringing them music they can close their eyes to."

For labor and delivery nurse Lisa Anderson, it is the opposite --bringing new life in the world -- that she cherishes about being a nurse. 

"I have always felt privileged to have the amazing opportunity to be a part of people's life at that profound moment. Being part of the family during such a dynamic change I find endlessly interesting and educational," said Anderson, who's been a nurse for 28 years. "Even after doing it for this long it never feels old. I never feel like I don't want to go to work."

Anderson gave birth in her very own unit at Swedish/Ballard.

"I felt a great deal of trust like I was with my own family. It made me a better nurse to have been a patient. To understand the vulnerability and anxiety you go through," she said.

Anderson said that the flexibility is another aspect about nursing that she loves. Being a nurse and a mother was never a problem. 

"Nursing is vast enough to find something for everyone, and there's a huge flexibility is schedules," she said.  

A night owl, Anderson works the night shift.  

"I really love working nights. It fits my body clock better. I get insomnia if I work days and not when I sleep during the day."

Anderson initially decided to become a nurse with the hopes of using the medical skills in an international setting.

"I wanted to be able to do international work at some point in my life and nursing would allow me to do that," she said. 

It took some time but Anderson eventually joined Medical Teams International, a global health organization that delivers medical and dental care and humanitarian aid to people in need. Last year Anderson spent some time in Guatemala, providing medical assistance to communities in rural areas, and this year she'll be traveling to Niger to do the same. 

"It's been completely eye-opening on many levels," she said. "We don't realize just how rich in resources we are here."

Given her many years of experience, Anderson is a great resource herself as she mentors new nurses. 

"In the last few years I have spent less time doing patient care and more time investing in younger nursing and mentoring. It's very rewarding," she said. 

Graves said that as the average age of RNs is going up, recruiting into the profession is very important.  Swedish is involved with all nursing schools in the area and around 800 students come through Swedish to do clinical rotations every year. 

Eight years ago, Colleen Clancy was one of them.

"I worked in patient registration and I knew I wanted to do more. To have a career, and be able to provide for me and my family," Clancy recalled. "From talking to nurses I learned that nursing really has so many opportunities and great flexibilities. Plus, Swedish has a great tuition assistance program."

Now a medical surgical nurse, Clancy said she loves working at Swedish/Ballard because of the "small town feel".

"Working in a small hospital is a really unique experience. I feel part of the community. We [as are very connected," she said. "Thank You's at times are far and few in between in this profession so National Nursing Week is a good time to think about our profession, be proud of what we do, and to recognize what we do for the community." 

Graves said that at Swedish/Ballard the nursing leadership team celebrates National Nursing Week by bringing in a distinguished speaker, spending lunches or breakfasts with the nursing staff, and visiting individual nurses on rounds. 

"It's important to me to celebrate the individual nurses so I really enjoy visiting them on rounds," Graves said. "Being here at Ballard has been one of the greatest experiences of my 25 years in nursing. I think that because we are smaller, we are very committed to one another and to the community. It's really a team effort and every single person makes a difference."

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