Nurses Week recognizes impact of profession

photo by: Earl Richardson

Joanie Pittenger, from left, Nicole Garber and Tara Farrell are nurses at LMH Health.

If you’ve ever been to a doctor’s office, urgent care or the hospital, chances are that you’ve had at least one interaction with a nurse. Nursing is the nation’s largest health care profession, with the American Nursing Association reporting that there are 4.3 million registered and licensed practical nurses nationwide.

Nurses Week is a week set aside each May to recognize and celebrate the contributions and commitment of nurses to our patients and communities. The week began Saturday and ends May 12, coinciding with the birthday of Florence Nightingale, a British nurse who founded the practice of modern nursing. This year’s theme is “You Make a Difference.” Celebrations at LMH Health are sponsored by the LMH Health Foundation.

Nursing is a calling

“There’s nothing like the feeling of knowing that you’ve truly taken care of someone — that you’ve done everything in your power to keep them safe and helped them progress to meet their health care goals,” said Nicole Garber, who knows that nursing is what she’s been called to do. She began her nursing career at LMH Health in February 2001, working in the acute rehab unit as an LPN before becoming an RN the following December. Nursing has provided the opportunity to work in a variety of areas, including caring for surgical and oncology patients and in education. But when COVID hit in early 2020, it caused a fresh set of challenges.

“The emotional, mental and physical challenges of COVID really hung heavy on me as a nursing manager,” Garber said. “I lost so many long-term colleagues to the stress and burnout that COVID brought. I felt I needed a change for myself and my family, so I left the LMH to be a home hospice case manager.”

The home hospice experience was very humbling, but Garber missed the pace of the hospital. She returned to LMH Health in February 2022 in a part-time role as an RN.

“Working part-time has been such a blessing, allowing me more time with my family and the ability to go back to school to pursue becoming a family nurse practitioner,” she said.

An honor to care

As a single mother of four, Tara Farrell began her journey to becoming an RN in 2006, earning an associate’s degree in nursing two years later. She’s worked in a variety of roles since becoming part of the LMH Health family in April 2009.

“I started at LMH working on the medical-surgical unit for 10 years,” Farrell said. “I moved to the care coordination department as a case manager in 2019 before I returned to the bedside in August 2020 in the transitional care/acute rehab unit.”

She missed working with patients in an acute care setting. When the opportunity to work with post-surgical, oncology and noncritical COVID patients arose, Farrell jumped at the chance.

“Caring for those who aren’t feeling well and are in an environment that’s either new or tiresomely familiar is an honor,” she said. “It’s my personal responsibility to make sure the patient’s experience includes educating, managing expectations, advocating for them and navigating them through the inpatient and into the outpatient plan of care.”

Nursing provides a perfect fit

“I love to make a difference. I like being able to help someone make things a little bit easier for them when they’re having a hard time going through some health challenges,” nurse Joanie Pittenger said.

Before Pittenger took a career test in high school, she wasn’t quite sure what path she’d follow.

“I knew I liked helping people and when nursing popped up as an option, I thought I should look into it,” she said. “I was able to volunteer at St. Francis Hospital and get a feel for things, and I liked it. I felt good being able to do what I could as a volunteer and from there, I knew nursing was what I wanted to do.”

Pittenger funneled that desire into her studies at Washburn University. After graduation, she worked weekends at Hiawatha Community Hospital, a small 25-bed hospital in northeast Kansas, for eight years.

“Working in Hiawatha was wonderful,” she explained. “I got to see a little bit of everything and got great experience under my belt.”

When she and her husband found out they were expecting a baby in 2017, Pittenger made the move to LMH Health, working on the fourth floor in the acute rehabilitation/transitional care unit. Working a schedule of 12-hour nights wasn’t going to be the best fit for the new family, so she began working at Lawrence Spine Care the following May, which allowed her to have an 8-to-5 workweek.

“I love working in Spine,” Pittenger said. “It’s a perfect fit for me. I work with an amazing group of people in a small clinic — they’re my little work family.”

What does it mean to make a difference?

Being a nurse isn’t always easy, but Farrell, Garber and Pittenger all agree on one thing. Making a difference in the lives of their patients and their families is part of what makes their jobs so rewarding.

“No one likes to be in the hospital or in pain,” Pittenger said. “Being able to be that person to help a patient through, especially when they’re having a hard time, and navigate the rough patches to help things go a little smoother, the transition a little bit easier, makes it worth it.”

Farrell agreed that the experience is a vital part of the care patients receive.

“My hope is to make a difference in the patient and family’s experience when they come to LMH Health, whether that means they’ve come here emergently, have been admitted on one of our inpatient units or are an outpatient following up with primary care or one of our specialty groups,” she explained.

Garber touted the caring, community culture at LMH Health.

“I want to impact someone, anyone, during my day in a positive way,” she said. “There is nothing that makes me happier than to have a patient or their family feel that they were truly cared for.”

— Autumn Bishop is the marketing manager and content strategist at LMH Health.


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