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Nurses, students encouraged to preserve ‘spirit of nursing’

Posted on Tuesday, May 14, 2013 · Volume: XLVI · Issue: 10

(Left to right) Nursing Advisory Committee Chair Gregg Muenster stands with keynote speaker Maria Wellisch, RN, BBA, LNFA, and School of Nursing Dean Eileen T. Breslin, Ph.D., RN, FAAN.
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(Left to right) Nursing Advisory Committee Chair Gregg Muenster stands with keynote speaker Maria Wellisch, RN, BBA, LNFA, and School of Nursing Dean Eileen T. Breslin, Ph.D., RN, FAAN.clear graphic

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By Rosanne Fohn

Although she has been a nurse for 42 years, it wasn’t until Maria Wellisch, RN, BBA, LNFA, experienced the compassionate care of nursing firsthand that she felt immense pride in the spirit of the nursing.

Wellisch, vice president of corporate education for Morningside Ministries, was the keynote speaker at the Nursing Advisory Council’s 11th annual Spring Luncheon on May 8. She spoke on “The Art, Science and Spirit of Nursing.”

The luncheon is the primary scholarship fundraiser for the School of Nursing at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio. Gregg Muenster, chair of the Nursing Advisory Council (NAC), noted that the luncheon celebrates the nursing students who are learning to provide compassionate care for friends, families and communities; the School of Nursing faculty members, who educate the next generation of nursing leaders and improve health care through innovative research; and the community partners, who serve as champions for health care and nursing education.

Dean Eileen Breslin, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, thanked Dean Emeritus Patty Hawken, Ph.D., who had the vision to start the NAC in 1983, as well as the faculty and alumni for their many contributions to the school and nursing profession. She added, “It also has been a privilege and honor to work with the dedicated community members who make up our Nursing Advisory Council. The NAC’s support and involvement in our School of Nursing is a national standard that others try to emulate.” The combined efforts of faculty, staff, students, alumni and the NAC are exemplary, she said, adding, “All of this is about improving the quality of care for our patients.”
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Providing compassionate care
In her keynote presentation, Wellisch, a Nursing Advisory Council member, said that she, like most other nurses, has felt pride in being a nurse and for doing her job well. “All nurses have these stories,” she said, telling a story from her days as a student nurse.

“I was caring for a patient who was in a coma for a long time and required neurosurgery,” she said. “We learned back in the 1960s that patients in a coma could still hear.” She joked that when she wanted to extend her break a little longer she read the newspaper and sang popular songs to him.

Former School of Nursing faculty members Jo Ann Crow, Ph.D.,  Dean Emeritus Patty Hawken, Ph.D., FAAN, and Willie Hayek, MSN, RN, visit at the luncheon.
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Former School of Nursing faculty members Jo Ann Crow, Ph.D., Dean Emeritus Patty Hawken, Ph.D., FAAN, and Willie Hayek, MSN, RN, visit at the luncheon.clear graphic


He never regained consciousness on her shift and was eventually discharged to a rehabilitation facility. Two and a half years later she was surprised when he returned with his family and a dozen roses to thank her for her great care and for reading to him, even though he was not able to respond. “But he told me never to sing to another patient,” she quipped.

Touched by the spirit
Years later, she and her husband received the phone call all parents dread: that their teenager had been involved in a terrible car wreck. The car her daughter, 15, and her friends were riding in had rolled over on the way to a football game.

“When I walked into the emergency room, I was in nurse mode. I asked all the technical questions about Jessica’s blood pressure and how many units of blood she had had,” Wellisch said. “Then, the ‘mom’ part of me stepped in for the six days that that she was in a coma. The nurses were so patient with my repeated questions.

“Jessica was so particular about her appearance and cleanliness,” Wellisch said. “They carefully washed her hands and fingernails in a basin. They sang childhood songs with me to Jessica. And they were the ones who noticed that my younger daughter could not approach Jessica because of her appearance.” The nurses trimmed Jessica’s hair and rewrapped the turban so that she looked as though she had just washed her hair rather than had been a victim of severe trauma.

“That is the heart and spirit of nursing,” Wellisch said. “I never fully appreciated the impact we can have as nurses on our patients until then.”

Even though the profession has moved toward the art and science of nursing, encouraging nurses to become change agents, nurse leaders, patient advocates and researchers, Wellisch challenged nurses to never give up on the spirit and compassion of nursing. “In every other career when they retire they say ‘I was a pilot’ or ‘I was something else.’ If you ask a nurse, they almost always say I am a nurse,” she said. “Let us keep that spirit of compassionate nursing alive.”

Also speaking at the luncheon were nursing student Dale Staffel and faculty member Kelly Dunn, Ph.D., RN, who thanked the NAC for their financial support.

Student nurse thanks NAC for timely scholarship
Staffel, who received a student scholarship, said, “When nursing school became an option for me, finances made that door all but shut. I still had debts from my initial degree and there was a big unknown in the budget because my wife was six months pregnant. In fact, the day I took the nursing school entrance exam, it just so happened to be the day my wife gave birth to our beautiful baby boy, Cove. Despite my strategic scheduling, he was early. At 5 a.m. we decided to be better safe than sorry. I drove Rachel to the hospital and we wished each other good luck. After the four-hour exam I raced back to the hospital,” he said.

“As you can imagine, pursuing the Accelerated BSN program with a new baby has been a bit stressful; however, your scholarship support allowed me to focus more fully on my studies instead of balancing studying with a full-time job,” he said.

NAC-supported research helps older patients to stay independent
Dr. Dunn, an associate professor and the Nancy Smith Hurd President’s Chair in Geriatric Nursing and Aging Studies, thanked the NAC for its grant for her research into falls in the elderly population. “As you know, falls are a public health problem of great magnitude and are a primary reason elders are moved out of their homes,” she said. With support from the NAC, Dunn conducted research into falls, including why older persons fall, how often falls occur and how to prevent them. She also has developed community partnerships to address falls, including an interdisciplinary group called “No More Falls Coalition of Texas” that has the goal of keeping elders in their homes and living independently.

One of the group’s projects is “Get a Grip,” which identifies older persons who have fallen and have been discharged home after rehabilitation. Group members visit the patients’ homes, install grab bars in their bathrooms and teach them how to use them. “We are now working to obtain federal research funding to expand the grab-bar installation,” she said. “But we also are studying the characteristics of elders that are correlated to falls.”

Making lives better
Muenster closed the luncheon by saying, “The UT Health Science Center’s branding states, ‘We make lives better.’ As I reflect on the stories we’ve heard today and look around the room at all of the generous community sponsors, enthusiastic students, NAC members and dedicated faculty and staff of the School of Nursing, I think we could easily say, ‘Together, we make lives better.’”

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