Published on May 09, 2017

A lifetime of caring: Longtime nurses reflect on rewards of their calling

Vickie Friel & Sylvia Black

Two of the longest-employed nurses at Lawrence Memorial Hospital — Vickie Friel, left, and Sylvia Black — decided when they were young that they would enter the nursing profession. This week, LMH is celebrating National Nurses Week.

By Caroline Trowbridge | Lawrence Memorial Hospital

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

There wasn’t any hesitation.

“When I was 7, I got a nurse’s kit for Christmas — a stethoscope, little candy pills, a hat, a cape. I put it on. I don’t think I took it off. I wore it all day, and I’m sure I went to bed in it,” recalls Vickie Friel, who this month celebrates 40 years in nursing at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. In June, she will mark the 50th anniversary of her start in the profession.Not if two little girls — one in south-central Wisconsin, one in eastern Kansas — were asked the question: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Clearly, the little girl from Reedsburg, Wis., knew her own mind.

“I’ve had the perfect job at the perfect place,” she said.

It’s been much the same for Lawrence native Sylvia Black.

Before Friel hired her as an obstetrics nurse 32 years ago, Black had lots of experience with LMH. She’d worked as an aide there for four years during school. She was born at LMH. She’d been a candy striper at LMH.

“I don’t remember anything but wanting to be a nurse,” Black said. “When I might struggle with my science courses, I would ask myself, ‘What else do I want to do?’ There was always a blank there because there was nothing else that I wanted to do.”

As these women, who are two of the longest-employed nurses at LMH, celebrate National Nurses Week, neither is thinking much about retirement.

Of course, Friel, who now works alongside Dr. Roger Dreiling at Cardiovascular Specialists of Lawrence, has cut her schedule to three days a week.

“That seemed like a great way to extend my career,” she said. “At this point, I don’t have plans to retire. I feel like — as long as I’m mentally sharp, and physically — I’ll continue. I love the people I work with. I love the patients.”

And Friel works at staying physically fit. She loves downhill skiing and for 30 years has been a member of the National Ski Patrol at Snow Creek near Weston, Mo. The year she turned 60 she traveled to Colorado to ski the steepest run in North America, she hiked the Grand Canyon, and she ran her first marathon.

For Black and Friel, nursing has provided them flexibility for life away from nursing and certainly as they raised their children. Black, who has worked in the mother-baby or pediatrics units since Friel hired her, moved to the night shift 27 years ago so she and her husband could more easily care for their three daughters.

“It works for us. It doesn’t work for everybody,” Black said.

Both women have a tremendous pride in the hospital where they have found a home.

“We are a family,” said Black, whose co-workers affectionately refer to her as Mama Bear. “This is family. I have a family outside of LMH, and this is a family inside LMH.”

While Black’s career has focused on expectant mothers and fathers, and children, Friel has done a bit of everything — cardiology, intensive care, the emergency room and maternal-child, where she was director for more than 15 years.

During their long careers at Lawrence’s community hospital, change has been a constant.

Gone are the days when oncology patients waited in LMH’s lobby before boarding a van to leave town for treatment. Now, many of those patients are treated here. Gone are the days when patients smoked in their rooms and staff could smoke in the lounge.

“We don’t do that anymore, and that’s a good thing,” Black said, smiling. And gone are the days when nurses used pens and paper to write in patients’ charts.

“We have a whole floor (for IT) in this hospital that didn’t exist when I started,” Friel said.

And the patient-physician relationship has changed. From her vantage point, Friel said, doctors have mellowed. They’re listening more to patients, who have become more active participants in their health care.

“It’s a kinder, more helpful environment than ever before,” she said.

In the past 40 years, the LMH complex of buildings has more than doubled in size. Outpatient visits to the hospital have skyrocketed, while inpatient stays have grown shorter.

“A lot of care is being assumed at home that used to be our care,” Black said.

But the depth and breadth of care available at LMH have expanded.

“What the hospital has been able to offer the community is so incredible,” Black said. “I’ve seen that growth, and I’m very proud of that. We’re a great community hospital, and I’d like to keep it that way.”

— Caroline Trowbridge is the marketing and communications manager for Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

A lifetime of caring: Longtime nurses reflect on rewards of their calling

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