St. John’s Residents Reflect on their Careers in Nursing

As a nurse, we have the opportunity to heal the heart, mind, soul and body of our patients, their families, and ourselves. They may forget your name, but they will never forget how you made them feel. -Maya Angelou

An amazing group of women were brought together on August 1 to highlight one of our country’s most crucial occupations. A dozen retired nurses—each a resident of St. John’s ranging in age from 70 to 95 years old—told their stories during “A Day in the Life of a Nurse—Then and Now,” a program at Brickstone by St. John’s.  

One of those nurses is Jane Watkin—a current St. John’s Meadows resident who began her career at the University of Rochester School of Nursing in the early 1940’s when she was just 17 years old. She told of how she spent night shifts alone in the hospital just six months after beginning her training. “I was alone on the floor with about 30 patients. There was no one else there, and I was scared to death.” Jane later explained that these “trial by fire” experiences that many nurses faced early in their careers led to their advancement up the nursing ranks, often without the need to interview for their new position.

Liz Walker—a Brickstone by St. John’s resident who recently retired from a part-time teaching position at the U of R School of Nursing—helped organize the program. She recognized an underlying theme to each of the nurse’s accounts of their early career. “Most of us were very young, very green, very naïve, and were given life and death decisions to make,” said Liz, who spent time as the Dean of Nursing at SUNY Institute of Technology at Utica/Rome.  “Many times we were overworked and overwhelmed with very little support.” 

Several other participants discussed their schooling and the challenge of working overnight shifts at the hospital and catching a quick rest before heading to classes in the morning. They talked about their work in a variety of disciplines including: mental health, OB/GYN, pediatrics, and industrial nursing. Each member of the panel shared a unique aspect of their nursing career with the audience. University of Rochester, Genesee Hospital, Monroe Community College, Jordan Health Center, Visiting Nurse Service, and Xerox were just some of the local employers represented by the cumulative experience of the panel members.     

The group also discussed the state of nursing today, referencing changes in work attire, equipment, and compensation. When the panel went to the crowd for questions, audience member Bob Flanigan summed up the thoughts of those in attendance. “I think this panel is a wonderful group of humanity. You have all made significant contributions everywhere you’ve gone.” 

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