Elizabeth Healy, left, and Mary Lynn Mains

Anyone who has visited a healthcare setting knows that a great nurse can help ease the anxiety of that visit. A skilled nurse helps bring a feeling of calmness to remind the patient that she is being well taken care of. A procedure becomes a little less daunting with a caring nurse by her side. Nurses are worth their weight in gold and we recently celebrated National Nurses Day in May 6 to focus on their importance in society.

Nursing makes up America’s largest health care profession. According to, there are approximately 3.1 million nurses, working in various settings with the primary one being in hospitals. I talked to two nurses with varying levels of workplace experience at our own local hospital to get their insight on their career and how it has changed over the years.

Elizabeth Healy, an RN or Registered Nurse, has worked with Infection Control, Same Day Surgery and as a Float Nurse over the last five years with Avera Sacred Heart Hospital. Mary Lynn Mains, with Avera 24 years, is a Staff RN in the Emergency Department. Healy graduated from nursing school at the University of Texas at Austin approximately five years ago, while Mains graduated from Mounty Marty College in Yankton forty-some years ago. They both commented that nursing is an everchanging field and there are always new things to learn.

Technology is continually changing nursing procedures, especially the recording of patient information, referred to as charting. Nurses have shifted from paper charting to computer charting. When Healy went to school, she experienced some clinicals being completed on paper and some on the computer. Now, everything is done on the computer. “Even that has changed in the last five years,” she observes. Mains had to transition from a paper-charting world to becoming more technology-savvy. Was it difficult?

“It was a learning curve,” she said. It took longer than she would have liked, but she adjusted and actually admitted to missing it when it was once not available. Healy said that the transition to a more technology-driven workplace is actually beneficial in adding some extra safety steps for the nurses. For example, they now have an additional safetyfeature of bedside medication verification, where they scan the patient’s wristband, verifying the person and that their medication is given to them properly.

Both Healy and Mains agree that much of the shift in nursing procedures comes from evidence-based practice.

Mains states, “The different diagnostics and procedures that we do today and our treatment of different disease entities (such as) heart disease and diabetes, comes forth from evidence-based practice.” Healy points out how nurses are more aware of infection control because of evidence-based practice.

“Back then, we didn’t wear gloves,” Mains said, as it wasn’t a normal practice for nurses to wear gloves during procedures.

“That makes me shudder to even think about it,” laughs Healy, because she was taught to always wear gloves.

Mains has seen an enormous rise in the types of medication available during her nursing career. Because of the number of medications available now, she states, “We highly encourage patients to carry a list of their medications, not just the names, but the dose and how often they are supposed to be taking it.” This helps doctors and nurses in other healthcare settings when they need to decipher which medication a patient is taking if they don’t have a list with them. She also encourages people who are traveling to take along a copy of their medical records, should they need any medical assistance. Avera, along with most hospitals, offers a patient portal that you can sign up for to have secure online access to your medical information.

Culture and values of society has changed the nursing field over the past several years. In the past, alcohol was the primary drug that nurses saw some patients abusing. Today, that’s expanded to include street drugs, over-the-counter drugs and prescription drugs. Along with being trained to recognize toxicology, nurses are also trained to recognize child abuse and sexual abuse, more prominent in today’s society than several years ago.

Nurses today have different concerns than their predecessors: how to care for people who are living longer, caring for chronic illnesses that are more prevalent and caring for diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease that have spread to a younger generation.

Palliative care, hospice and end of life issues are topics developed over the past several years. Healy and Mains agree that continuing education is the best way for nurses to stay abreast of new topics, from conferences and inservices to reading on their own.

Patient safety has been emphasized more over the years. Mains states that teamwork is stressed much more now than when she was in school. “Teamwork between...” she hesitates, looking for the right word.

“Interdisciplinary teams,” Healy chimes in and Mains agrees as she smiled. A perfect example of great nursing teamwork happened right before my eyes. I can see how well they work together. By interdisciplinary teams, Healy means teamwork between all medical professionals involved with the patient: physician, nurse, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc.

Mains points out that during her first few years in nursing, it was all in-patient procedures. Now it’s gone to mostly outpatient procedures. Healy feels that, with the Affordable Care Act, there’s been a shift in medical care, from a reactive to a pro-active society. “As a society, we needed that. We have needed that preventative care,” she states. Same-day procedures have grown, even just in the last two years. Healy explains how same day procedures are steps that people are taking to remain healthy, to prevent a medical condition from happening. “With the medications and the diagnostics, we are hopefully as a society only going to stay more preventative,” she states.

With so many changes in the fast-paced world of nursing, I wondered if the experienced nurses and the new graduates can mesh in their work environment without any major communication barriers. “We can all learn from each other,” explains Mains. “I like to think of myself as being progressive and wanting the best patient care we can provide.”

Healy agrees. “Some of the best learning that I ever did in the chest pain department is following Mary Lynn....listening to them and what questions they are asking, what are they doing first.”

Mains gives new nurses credit, “Experience is good, but critical thinking skills are huge. You develop your critical thinking skills in school, and to rationally think through what might come down the road with problems that patients could come into, being one step ahead of the game. You need to use this knowledge and these skills.”

Healy feels that the most rewarding part of nursing is seeing a really sick patient out in the community later, doing better. “I know that I had a part in that. I know that I was a part of what helped them get out of the hospital and go on and live their life.”

Mains agrees, “There is satisfaction of helping a patient become healthier and preventing adverse effects through our role in helping that patient.”

What do Healy and Mains advise the upcoming nursing student? Healy states, “Always make sure you’re up to date on what is the best practice. Ask the residents, ask the nursing students, ask the medical students, ask how they are doing this in other places.” There is a lot of sharing of information between nurses so don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Mains advises, “Be passionate about what you do. Realize that there are going to be, as with any career, times of frustration.

Continually grow and learn in your profession because it’s changing all the time.”

It was clear to me that I just met two nurses who are very passionate about their career. If their attitudes are an indication of the nurses taking care of us, I think we can be assured that we will be well taken care of in any of our fine medical facilities. I could feel a calmness already.