A passion for caring: 2 LMH nurses explain career choice

Louisa Kamatuka and Cory Treichel didn’t originally pick nursing as their career choice, but different paths have led them to serving patients at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

Cory Treichel didn’t always know he wanted to be a nurse. Well, he said he might have known, but there weren’t a lot of male nurses around in the 1980s. After an almost 30-year stint working in sales and management, it seemed he never would.

But several years ago, after losing his job during the recession, he decided to make a career switch.

“It’s still a sales job,” Treichel said. “It’s just a little bit more rewarding.”

Treichel enrolled in classes at Kansas City Kansas Community College and became a registered nurse. He has worked at Lawrence Memorial Hospital on the medical floor ever since. Now, Treichel is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing through online classes at Fort Hays State University.

For Louisa Kamatuka, the director of medical nursing at LMH, nursing wasn’t her initial career choice, either.

“Deep down, I had this feeling of wanting to take care of patients and wanting to take care of sick people,” said Kamatuka, who is Treichel’s boss.

She remembers taking care of her great-grandmother while growing up in Namibia, where she lived before coming to the United States in 1977 as a political refugee. Kamatuka ended up in Hillsboro, where she attended Tabor College, planning to be a physical therapist.

National Nurses Week

Lawrence Memorial Hospital will celebrate Nurses Week May 6-12 with a number of events recognizing the contributions of nursing staff, including presentation of scholarships and DAISY Awards at 2 p.m. Thursday, May 10, in the LMH Atrium. This will include a new tradition of a Florence Nightingale lamp lighting ceremony. The lamp is an international symbol of nursing, and it represents a lamp Nightingale used during night rounds to care for injured soldiers in 1854 during the Crimean War. Nightingale is considered the founder of modern nursing.

By 1981, Kamatuka had transferred to the University of Kansas to be with her husband, Ngondi, who was getting his master’s degree. She started to consider how many extra years of schooling it would take to become a physical therapist and re-evaluated.

“I had to make the decision to finish physical therapy or find something else,” Kamatuka said.

A friend encouraged her to try nursing, which would require one less year of school — an appealing aspect to Kamatuka, who was paying her way through school. Yet she still had reservations.

“The one thing that really kept me away is I hated needles,” Kamatuka said.

She eventually overcame her fear and graduated from the KU School of Nursing in 1987.

“You get used to it. It’s like with anything, the more you do it the more comfortable you get,” Kamatuka said.

As the two celebrate National Nurses Week this week, Treichel and Kamatuka agree that entering the nursing profession is the best decision they ever made.

During a conversation with Treichel, just steps from his patients, this was apparent. His phone rang. He answered without hesitation, quickly escaping into unintelligible medical jargon before hanging up the phone.

“Sorry,” Treichel said, and then circled back to the question: Why did you switch from sales to nursing?

“I guess I felt like I wasn’t helping enough in my community,” he said. “I like that aspect of being in a community hospital and helping out within my direct community.”

Kamatuka first started at LMH in 1989 and worked as a staff nurse in the intensive care unit for four years before being lured to bigger hospitals in the Kansas City metro area. In 2015, she returned to LMH to take on the director role.

“It was just kind of like going back home,” Kamatuka said.

Her career has spanned more than 30 years. She has earned a doctorate in nursing and worked in multiple units, including oncology. Her experience has given her the confidence and knowledge to speak up when something needs to be changed.

Kamatuka, who remembers the days when nurses were scolded if they questioned doctors, said physicians at LMH are open-minded and responsive to suggestions.

“We work as a team,” she said. “Yes, you have your role and I have my role, but our goal is the same: to get the patient up and well and going. We can only do that if we work together.”

Being a good nurse is more than providing physical support to patients.

“There’s a fair amount of hand-holding and listening and just being there,” Treichel said.

Kamatuka said her job as the director does reduce her face time with patients, but she said her skills help ensure quality care. And she does rounding on the unit, which allows her to stay in touch with patients.

Treichel said it can be difficult to convince his patients to take care of themselves, which is where his sales background comes in handy.

“You have to get people to buy into their health,” Treichel said.

For those who don’t, Treichel and Kamatuka are there to help. Kamatuka said she encourages anyone who is compassionate, caring and has the desire to take care of people to consider nursing.

“You have so many choices,” she said. “You don’t necessarily have to work in the hospital all the time.”

For Treichel, working in a hospital has been a rewarding career switch.

“My worst day is 85 times better than the bulk of my patients’ day, so I am blessed,” Treichel said.

— Mattie Carter is an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department at LMH, which is a major sponsor of the Lawrence Journal-World’s Health section.