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Veteran nurses say they love their profession

May 14, 2001

Veteran nurses say they love their profession



By MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

While the nursing profession has undergone many radical changes over the years, several veteran Washington County Hospital emergency room caregivers still say it's a great career.

National Nurses Week was May 6-12.

"I've been in nursing for 50 years. All but two of those years here at WCH," said Fran Alton. "I like it. It's exciting."

Those years were all spent in the emergency room where she works the night shift by choice.

A registered nurse, Alton trained at the former WCH nursing school in Pangborn Hall.

Debbie Myers is also a registered nurse in the emergency room after rotating through several other specialties in her 29-year career.

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"I got my training at what was Hagerstown Junior College (now HCC) because the WCH nursing school had closed," Myers said.

She later earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland and her master's degree from Hood College in the field of nurse/educator.

"I did that because I figured if I didn't like nursing, I could go back and be a teacher," Myers said.

But she found the nursing career very rewarding and would encourage a son or daughter to go into the field.

"You can also travel with it," Myers said, an attribute not shared by many professions.

Just 19 when she started nursing, Myers spent time in medical/surgery, the intensive care unit and now the emergency room.

"I've had good mentors ... Nancy Conrad, Kay Ridenour, Lorna Christian," Myers said. "I learned a lot and picked up good habits from all of them."

Myers and Alton agreed that nursing had changed and sometimes not for the better.

"The new generation comes out of nursing school thinking they can get any job they want," Myers said.

Even with nursing shortages and opportunities for well-trained nurses, there are high burnout and turnover rates.

Studies published recently in Health Affairs, a health policy journal, show that many hospital nurses are leaving the profession because of rising patient loads, short staffing and declining quality of care.

"I miss the tried and true things and the discipline we observed," Alton said. "The language, the uniform ... things are looser now and I wasn't taught that way."

But Myers and Alton know the difficulty hospitals are having in attracting new hospital employees and nurses.

Emergency room departments are particularly susceptible to burnout.

The Washington County Hospital emergency room saw approximately 65,000 patients in 2000, up from 49,000 in 1999, hospital officials said.

Health officials say many people who don't have a family physician come to the emergency room for routine medical services.

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