Nursing a family affair for pair

Jennifer Fitzpatrick, RN, BSN, left, and her mother, Marlene Nelson, RN, BSN, both of Escanaba, review vaccine information at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Bay College on Feb. 17. The nurses said that on the whole, the many changes to the profession over the years have been positive. (Daily Press photo by Caroline Carlson)

ESCANABA — For Marlene Nelson, RN, BSN, and daughter Jennifer Fizpatrick, RN, BSN, both of Escanaba, nursing is a family affair. Two of Marlene’s aunts and her sister were nurses. Jennifer followed all of them into the profession.

Nelson was inspired by the nurses in her family to choose the profession in 1964, and was accepted to both St. Elizabeth School of Nursing in Chicago and St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing in Marquette. Nelson chose Chicago, because one of her aunts trained at St. Elizabeth and was still working there. She was also eager to go to the “big city,” as she calls it.

Nursing school was much different back then, Nelson recalled. The education involved strictly nursing classes, with 3-month clinic rotations in each specialty area. She compared the education to today’s associate degree in nursing (ADN). Nelson said it was a truly immersive experience, and looking back, still marvels at how much the students learned in just three years.

“My education was much different from daughter’s. We spent time at the nursing school attached to the hospital. Students also staffed the hospital. We did a three-month rotation for every modality,” said Nelson.

Nelson spent one of her three-month rotations in psychiatric medicine at the Chicago State Hospital commonly known as Dunning. Of all her rotations, Nelson said her time at Dunning was the most stressful. This was due, she said, to the combining of patients with different mental health illnesses in communal environments — a practice many psychiatric hospitals were moving away from by the late ’60s. Nelson said that many student nurses came back from Dunning with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder issues.

Looking back, Nelson recalled one other harrowing experience during nursing school. On July 14,1966 Richard Benjamin Speck murdered eight student nurses at their group residence in Chicago. The event was particularly frightening for Nelson and her fellow nursing students, who were living in a dorm.

“That was a little scary for all us. An anonymous donor gave our school money for all us to have self-defense classes,” Marlene recalled.

Overall, Nelson has happy memories of her time in nursing school. Because it was so focused on nursing alone, however, Marlene decided to go on to get her bachelor’s degree after graduating nursing school. She graduated from Northern Michigan University with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

Marlene said the industry changed a lot over the years, all the way down to the dress code. Nelson recalled the uniforms the nursing students and nurses were required to wear in the 1960s and early ’70s, which included a skirt and stockings. Nurses also wore hats, which Marlene recalls varied by nursing school. During Nelson’s early career a cape was added to her uniform for wearing outdoors and to events.

Marlene wore her cape walking with her fellow nurses hospital parades, and one year, Marlene and three of her colleagues rode on their parade hospital’s float.

Over time, uniforms transitioned from skirts to pants and eventually unisex scrubs. Even when still in her skirted uniform, though, Nelson said the nursing caps fell by the wayside — not due to advancements in gender equality, but practicality.

“It was too hard to keep your cap on during emergencies and be practical. It kind of got in the way sometimes,” she said.

Nelson’s long career, from 1967 to 2010, included over three decades in hospitals and two decades as school nurse. The majority of Nelson’s hospital nursing career was at OSF HealthCare St. Francis Hospital (OSF), in intensive care and coronary care. Even during her years as a school nurse, Marlene often worked at OSF after school or weekends per diem as nursing supervisor.

Nelson said she loved being a school nurse as much as working in the hospital, because anything could happen.

“You never knew what to expect,” she said.

Nelson’s daughter Jennifer was inspired by her mother’s dedication in the schools, including her many years of volunteering to help students.

“I’d see her in school and donating her time after school to make sure kids had what they needed. She’d go out and get jackets for students,” said Fitzpatrick.

During Nelson’s time working in the schools, she would receive funds from the youth assistance program and the women’s club to buy needy students clothing.

“Sometimes teachers would let me know what a child needed, or I’d see students themselves and know they needed a winter coat, shoes, boots, winter clothes,” said Nelson.

Nelson said it wasn’t uncommon for parents and student to accompany her on her shopping trips to get the child what was needed.

Fitzpatrick was inspired by seeing her mother’s dedication to caring for people. She also loved the camaraderie of her mom’s two bridge clubs — one of nurses, the other of school personnel, all extensions of her “nursing family.” It became clear to Fitzpatrick that like her mom, she wanted to be a nurse.

Fitzpatrick earned her ADN from Bay College in 2017 and went on to pursue her bachelor’s degree at Purdue University Global. She graduated with her BSN in 2019.

While still in school, Fitzpatrick forged a different nursing path than her mother, tending to patients in their homes through private nursing. She said she gravitated toward private nursing because it accommodated her need for a flexible but predictable schedule.

Fitzpatrick, the mother of a 9-year-old boy with autism and a 12-year-old girl, said the per-diem system hospitals used did not work well for her. As a per diem nurse, Fitzpatrick would need to call in two hours before a shift to see if she was needed. If she wasn’t, they’d call her off and she would not work that day.

As it turned out, home healthcare turned out to be a perfect fit. Fitzpatrick loves the one-on-one time she can spend sitting with patients, hearing their stories or helping them work through anxiety. Especially for senior patients, she said her work brings comfort for family who can’t be around or travel because of the pandemic.

The biggest nursing difficulty posed by the pandemic, Fitzpatrick said, is the masks, which prevent her senior patients from being able to lip-read. She is moving to clear face masks to remedy the problem.

Both Nelson and Fitzpatrick said the only frustrating thing about nursing in the digital age is not spending as much time with patients.

“You can’t spend as much time with the patient as most nurses want to, you know? That’s why we go into it, to care for them and sit and talk with them,” said Fitzpatrick.

Despite the feeling that patient charting takes away from quality patient time these days, both Nelson and Fitzpatrick believe that modern advancements in nursing are beneficial. The digitization of patient information saves time by making records, family histories, medications and contact information readily available. This is especially true, Nelson said, when refilling prescriptions. Even communications between patient and medical staff have been streamlined through online applications.

“Even though the nursing care has changed over the years with the amount of one-on-one time a nurse gets to spend with their patients, a dedicated nurse will know how to make a patient feel comfortable, safe and important,” said Nelson.

Though she retired in 2010, Nelson kept her license current until March 2020.

“I didn’t use it for ten years and thought ‘oh I don’t need this anymore,'” she said with a laugh.

When the pandemic hit, Nelson heard that Mary Harrington, RN, and Deb Pouquette, RN were looking for nurse volunteers to help with COVID-19 vaccination clinics at Bay College. Fitzpatrick wanted to help administer vaccines, so Nelson contacted Harrington, who she has known professionally for years, to make arrangements. Nelson was happy to find there was a place for her on the volunteer team, too, observing patients after vaccination.

In a recent Daily Press interview, Harrington spoke about the importance of having experienced nurses to observe patients after vaccinations to identify potential reactions, should they occur.

Both mother and daughter plan to continue volunteering in the COVID-19 vaccination clinics for as long as they are needed.

“I love taking care of people. I feel like I’m making a difference and I plan to keep helping wherever I’m needed ’til everyone gets vaccinated,” said Nelson.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today