Four Wayne nurses among state's 100 best
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 30, 2009 12:26 AM
Rick Sutton began his career at Wayne Memorial Hospital as a dishwasher in the cafeteria.
That didn't last too long.
Witnessing the hard-working efforts of nurses, he decided to take a similar path, starting out as what was then called a nursing assistant.
"I thought, 'Hey, I could do this,'" he says now.
Little did he know then that he and three of his colleagues, Barbara Lewis Shelton, Pam Lewis and Lena Jones, would be named among the state's best nurses for 2009.
It took Sutton two years to obtain his associate degree from Wayne Community College, then two additional years at East Carolina University, but he obtained his nursing degree. Now in the emergency department with a master's degree in nursing, he has logged 33 years at the hospital, 28 of those as a nurse.
"I certainly don't think every little boy thinks, 'I want to grow up to be a nurse one day,'" he said. "I certainly didn't."
Often, he said, the rewards take on forms that are not readily seen. Sutton recalls a recent case where he helped a mother who was accompanied by her 5-year-old son in the emergency room.
When he finished treating the child's mother Sutton said the little boy "came over, put his head on my shoulder, and said, 'Thank you for taking care of my mommy.' He gave me one of his Star Wars stickers."
The four Wayne Memorial Hospital nurses were named to this year's "Great 100" nurses list for the state. They will be recognized at a black tie gala in Greensboro on Oct. 3.
A grass roots peer recognition organization, the Great 100 was organized in 1988. In recent years, Wayne Memorial has had recipients each year. In addition to promoting the profession, the effort raises funds for nursing scholarships.
Each of the remaining three "Great 100" nurses at Wayne Memorial has more than 30 years experience in the field.
Barbara Lewis Shelton and Pam Lewis were born at the original hospital on Ash Street, so they "started at Wayne Memorial the day we were born," Mrs. Shelton said.
"I can remember giving tours in the '70s as a candy striper," she added.
Now director of performance and patient safety, Mrs. Shelton has been a nurse for 36 years, 32 of those at Wayne Memorial.
Mrs. Lewis, infection control practitioner for the past two years, has been a nurse for 31 years.
Lena Jones, clinic supervisor in general surgery, has spent her entire 37-year career at Wayne Memorial.
"This was my first real full-time job," Ms. Jones said. "I graduated from high school in 1970, came here in 1972."
Starting out as an LPN, she returned to school for her associate degree, completing it in 1983.
The other two nurses also hold advanced degrees -- Mrs. Shelton completed bachelor and master's degrees in business, Mrs. Lewis earned her certification to teach in career technical education and health education, working in the school system for seven years, and holds a bachelor's degree in nursing.
The recognition came as a surprise to Ms. Jones.
"I enjoy doing what I do. I enjoy taking care of the patients," she said. "My motto is, I treat them the way I would like to be treated. The satisfaction of knowing I made a difference in somebody's life as well as the staff's, and trying to, I guess, it still boils down to trying to make a difference."
"It doesn't matter what area you work in," added Mrs. Shelton. "No matter where we work, we try to make a difference in a patient's life."
That also becomes a gift to the caregiver, Mrs. Lewis said.
"It's rewarding to you personally, and educating family members and staff members like I do," she said. "It's rewarding to know that you can make a difference and help them make the best decision."
Each has a unique story that led to his or her decision to take this career path.
For Mrs. Shelton, she had "always wanted to be a nurse," she said.
"My mom wanted to be one but she didn't have the opportunity," she said. "I just have a need to reach out to people and help them no matter what's going on. It's always been my driving force."
Mrs. Lewis previously worked at the hospital, including a stint in pediatrics, before teaching health occupations in the school system.
"I still have people that remember me taking care of their children," she said. "They just remember you caring for a family member. You make a difference."
The others have experienced similar acknowledgements.
"There are still women that walk up to me -- I do not know them. They talk about that I helped them with the birth of their children, how much it meant to them," Mrs. Shelton said.
The upcoming statewide recognition will also hold special meaning, especially in light of its magnitude.
"The honor is because there's so many good nurses in North Carolina," Mrs. Shelton said. "There are 58,000 nurses in North Carolina and to be chosen one of the top 100 of the 58,000, it's an honor, especially for me being an older nurse, because we have been in this a long time. It's an honor when you're getting to the end of your career, and you're recognized."