Giving Thanks During National Nurses Month
Writer / Julie Engelhardt
May is known for being the time when we honor our moms on Mother’s Day, or don wide-brimmed hats to celebrate the Kentucky Derby.
May is also National Nurses Month.
Take a moment and you will realize that you’ve had many encounters with nurses throughout your life.
They are there when you’re born into this world. They are in the operating room closely assisting the surgeon. They are on the front lines in the emergency room. Many utilize their years of knowledge to educate students who are entering into the field of nursing.
This is the month to recognize these hard-working individuals who dedicate hours to care for their patients. They are a crucial member of your health-care team.
Two area residents who have dedicated years of service to nursing are Chris and Tracie Burchett, both employees at UofL Health.
Chris’s mom was a nurse for 45 years and his dad was a respiratory therapist for 30 years. When Chris left high school, he says that he had no desire to enter the medical field. “I remember making comments like, ‘What my mom does is gross,’” he says.
That all changed when Chris was in his mid-20s. He’d been laid off from his job as a bank manager, and it was his mother who encouraged him to set his sights on a career in medicine.
“She said, ‘You should become a nurse because you’ll always have a job,’” he says.
Chris received his associate’s degree in nursing in 2008 from Galen College of Nursing, and his master’s degree in nursing in 2011 from the University of Phoenix. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in business from Sullivan University.
Chris began his career as a bedside nurse taking care of medical-surgical patients. He then transitioned into the float pool, which allowed him to work in a variety of different units in the hospital. After graduating with his master’s degree, Chris began working in hospital management positions. He’s been in leadership roles ever since.
“I was a medical-surgical floor manager, and then I developed what’s called our transfer center and staffing office,” he says. “Next I was promoted to director over those departments. For the last three to four years I was in charge of bed placement for the downtown UofL and Jewish hospitals, and staffing for both hospitals, which, during the pandemic, became even more challenging. I recently transitioned over to be the system director of employee health. I’ve been dealing firsthand with the coronavirus and how it’s impacted our hospitals the last four months.”
Chris says there are many facets to being a nurse.
“They do more than take your vitals and give you a bath,” he says. “Nurses are the ones who stay with you the entire time you’re in the hospital. If you were to look in on our intensive care units right now, those nurses are managing your day-to-day care. Patients may have multiple lines, drips, drains. When you walk into the room, there are computers and monitors hooked up to you, and that nurse knows everything that’s happening in that room.”
Chris is very candid about how COVID-19 has affected his hospital staff.
“It’s tough knowing there’s already a nursing shortage in our country, and dealing with staffing day to day – patients aren’t going to go away,” he says. “We saw our volume increase substantially with the number of COVID patients. When you see your own staff starting to get [COVID], you know you have to figure out a way to take care of patients. That meant an increased workload on our nursing staff. You want patients to get the best care possible, and when you have to take in higher ratios, you see the stress of the staff. But you’re always going to do what you can to take care of your patients.”
Chris says what hit nurses hard at the beginning of the pandemic was that hospitals weren’t allowing visitors into patients’ rooms.
“Patients were dying alone,” he says. “Nurses had a really hard time with that because they were the only one in that room when the patient passed away. Families could FaceTime their loved ones before they passed, but still not being physically able to touch someone as they’re passing away – the nurses had to deal with that over and over. They saw a lot of COVID deaths.”
Tracie’s path towards nursing was a bit different.
She knew from the time she was a teenager that she wanted to go into the field of medicine.
“I actually ended up needing major abdominal surgery when I was 14 due to a birth defect I had in my kidney,” Tracie says. “It finally came to light that I needed to have it fixed. I’d always been interested in medical things and always wanted to be a doctor, but after being in the hospital I began to realize that the nurses really are the ones who are with you all the time.”
Tracie holds a bachelor of science degree in nursing from Saint Louis University, and she is currently working on her master’s degree in nursing.
Tracie began her career working in the trauma unit at Saint Louis University Hospital in Missouri, where she stayed for three years. That is where she met Chris. The Burchetts moved to Louisville in 2012, returning Chris to his childhood roots. Tracie then made the transition to University of Louisville Hospital. Besides spending time in the trauma unit, Tracie also worked in the float pool.
“You’re working with medical patients, oncology patients, and sometimes I’d go to specialty units like endoscopy or the cancer center,” she says. “Basically you have to be very flexible if someone calls in sick or goes on vacation.”
Tracie says she enjoyed working in the oncology department.
“The atmosphere is a little bit different and the patients are so strong and hopeful, and appreciative about their care,” she says. “You feel really good about caring for them and helping them get through this hard time.”
After working in the float pool Tracie went to the emergency department, where she stayed for five years.
“I went there in 2016 and I was at University Hospital so I was back with my trauma patients, and eventually was the charge nurse for my shift for two years,” she says.
“Just last May I started a new position in our trauma institute doing trauma education,” she continues. “In that role I teach new nurses, I help facilitate the trauma education of all the physicians in the hospital, and I continue to educate the nurses who are there. I also go out into the community and educate EMS and other hospitals about trauma care and how to take care of patients before they come to us.”
One person who is extremely grateful for hard-working, dedicated nurses is Shannon Lynn, M.D., a primary-care doctor with University of Louisville Physicians specializing in internal medicine. Lynn has been a practicing physician for 19 years.
“A wonderful, caring nurse is absolutely priceless to patient care,” Lynn says. “It is the most important part of hospital care. I believe a good nurse determines the outcome. It’s even harder now for those nurses to achieve the kind of care they want to provide, because care has been fragmented in such a way that it’s often harder for the nurses to be at the bedside as much as they like.”
Lynn says nurses are the eyes and ears of the doctors when the doctors can’t be with the patients.
“We can’t be there 24/7 and the nurses are, and they are the ones who relay the information to us and tell when to be worried, and it is so incredibly helpful,” she says. “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that we acknowledge the importance of our nurses at the bedside.”
When asked how the community can show support for nurses and medical personnel, Tracie recommends simply walking up and saying thanks.
“A lot of times we say thank-you to the military and say thank-you to our service workers,” Tracie says. “It’s the same thing, just say thank-you to nurses too.”