South End nurses honored for National Nurses Week

Julie Guilbert, an oncology nurse, helps one of her regular patients, Ed Weitzel. Patients and nurses become one big family at Whidbey General Hospital because of the frequent visits. - Michaela Marx Wheatley / The Record
Julie Guilbert, an oncology nurse, helps one of her regular patients, Ed Weitzel. Patients and nurses become one big family at Whidbey General Hospital because of the frequent visits.
— image credit: Michaela Marx Wheatley / The Record

COUPEVILLE — Molly Cook, a labor and delivery nurse at Whidbey General Hospital, has a sweet deal. She’s getting paid to welcome babies into the world and is often the one who gets to hand the brand-new bundle of joy to the proud mother for the first time.

The job means many long hours, but she never had second thoughts about going into the nursing profession.

“I’ve never regretted it for a second,” Cook said.

Just down the hallway at the hospital, Julie Guilbert, an oncology nurse, helps patients fighting cancer. Some may lose the battle.

Even so, Guilbert, too, said she has she has a great job and wouldn’t change it for anything.

“I’ve been a nurse for 20 years. Always in oncology. It’s the nuts and bolts, it’s life and death,” Guilbert said.

“People who face these huge life altering issues teach you so much about life,” she added.

Nursing is about being there when people are the most vulnerable.

“It may be that you’re there with the daughter when her mother is dying. You’re there just being another human being sharing this intimate moment,” said Gwen Parrick, an emergency room and diagnostic imaging nurse. “Or a child who is in a panic or pain and we’re helping him through the procedure.”

A total of 196 nurses work at Whidbey General Hospital and its north and south island clinics. Many say providing care is more than a job. It’s a passion.

“We’re the ones by the bedside,” Parrick said.

“That’s were we want to be,” added Shannon McDonnell, an infection control and employee health nurse.

Nurses provide the human factor in medicine in an increasingly sophisticated medical world.

“Without this bridge it’s a stressful thing and stress is not good,” said Don Miller, an oncology nurse and diabetes educator.

This week, nurses across the country are being honored. It’s national Nurses Week, celebrated annually from May 6 through

May 12. The celebration concludes on the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

At Whidbey General Hospital it’s business as usual this week, except that the nurses may get an extra thank you here or there. It’s a good time to recognize these skilled professionals.

The Coupeville hospital has an exceptional number of advanced skilled nurses.

“We have really high caliber nurses here,” Guilbert said.

At Whidbey General Hospital, 50 percent of the registered nurses hold advanced degrees, said Patsy Kolesar-Hynson, the med surge manager.

The hospital is following a trend with its staffing. Research indicates that advanced practice registered nurses can provide

60 to 80 percent of primary care services as well as or better than physicians and at a lesser cost.

The Journal of the American Medical Association has also reported that a study found patients fared just as well when treated by nurse practitioners as they did when treated by physicians.

they did when treated by physicians.

It may be that patients respond well to nurses because they care for the whole person, not just the ailment.

“Nurses deal with health and the doctors deal with the medical side of it,” Cook said.

Parrick said modern nursing takes a very holistic approach.

“We’re looking at the overall person and family,” she said.

“We deal with those big life issues considering the family as part of the package,” Guilbert agreed.

Whatever the reason may be, Guilbert said the nursing profession has gained much respect in recent years.

“There’s a lot of autonomy,” she said. “Nurses are really respected for what they are doing.”

The nurses said working in a small hospital has its perks.

“Particularly at Whidbey General Hospital you get a sense of community,” Miller said.

“Whidbey General is very team oriented. We’re very blessed as we work really well as a team,” Guilbert said.

But it also allows the nurses to cross-train and further develop their abilities.

“The nice thing about a small hospital is that you can keep up your skills,” Cook said.

Despite its size, there are a lot of services available at the Coupeville hospital. Many patients travel off island for treatment such as chemotherapy, Guilbert said.

“They don’t realize that they can have their treatment here,” she said.

Even though the hospital is full with enthusiastic nurses, the hospital is facing a serious challenge — recruiting the next generation.

The average nurse at the hospital is in her late 40s, Guilbert said. That also mirrors a national trend.

The nation’s registered nurse workforce is aging significantly and the number of full-time equivalent registered nurses per capita is forecast to peak around the year 2008 and decline steadily thereafter, according to information by Vanderbilt University’s nursing school.

Recruiting and maintaining young professionals in a rural setting isn’t easy. It’s a field with a bright future, however.

According to projections released in 2004 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses top the list of the 10 occupations with the largest projected job growth in the years 2002-2012.

Guilbert said there is a lot of teaching done at the hospital, but more young nurses are needed.

The nurses said the nature of the work and the variety of tasks make it a great job.

“It’s one of the best decision’s I’ve made,” McDonnell said.

“If I wanted a career change I’d go to another department,” Cook said.

Nursing is also about teaching.

Carla Jolley, an advanced practice nurse and home and hospice specialist, said her job involves teaching and caring.

“We go to patients’ homes and teach people to care for their loved one,” Jolley said. “Sometimes it’s to get better, sometime it’s to support the patient and the family through the dying process.”

Caring for a patient through difficult emotional and physical times can make the caregiver and patient bond.

“We do build relationships, often more long-term than in other departments,” she said.

Miller, who is a diabetes educator, said he enjoys teaching people to live with their conditions successfully, but it’s not a one-way street.

“I’m always learning from patients as they learn from us,” he said.

Jolley summed up what nursing is all about.

“Nursing is about the care, not always the cure,” Jolley said.

Michaela Marx Wheatley can be reached at 221-5300 or

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