Sister Peggy Fannon knew at four years old that she wanted to be a nurse. And for 46 years, she has been a nurse, many would say even a great one. In fact, Fannon has been named a G.R.E.A.T. Ambassador by the Georgia Hospital Association, which honors hospital employees for their caring and commitment to patients. (Great stands for Giving Recognition for Excellence, Advocacy, and Teamwork.) While Fannon has spent almost her entire nursing career at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Atlanta’s oldest hospital founded by the Sisters of Mercy, she has taken care of all kinds of patients, from children with burns to grownups with cancer. For the past 14 years, Fannon has worked as a patient educator, being a cheerleader for patients as well as teaching them how to take care of themselves. “Early on, I felt I was doing more of a ministry than an actual job,” Fannon said. “Those children and adults also have touched my life,”
Q: Did you really know at four that you wanted to be a nurse?
A: I did. When I was a young child, I had middle ear infections a lot and was in the hospital two different times. My mother said I talked about being a nurse after that.
Q: How has the profession changed since you first became a nurse?
A: It has changed tremendously. The patients back then were not as sick as they are today. We had very little technology.
Q: What do you do today?
A: I am assigned to the vascular stroke unit and the medical surgical unit. I am also a certified diabetes educator. I talk to patients primarily about their illnesses, the risk factors that set them up for these problems and ways to manage them.
Q: Are the risk factors genetic or caused by patient behavior?
A: Actually both. Many patients do have a family history, which is one risk factor they cannot change. There are other risk factors they can change. If a patient has diabetes, we talk to them about checking their sugar and keeping it in control so they are not at risk for stroke.
Q: Do you ever get frustrated when patients don’t follow your advice?
A: I have to say I occasionally do, particularly those who say right from the get go that they are not going to quit smoking. Smoking puts them at a higher risk for stroke and vascular disease. Sometimes, it is important to say to patients, “What would make you change a behavior so you can live a longer and healthier life?” Some will they say they want to see their grandkids grow up. If you can get to the point where they have a goal, you can motivate them to make a change.
Q: Do you ever miss being a bedside nurse?
A: I don’t because I feel like I am still there, just in a different capacity. I am still working and talking with patients. Now I serve as a resource for the nurses who work with those patients, too.
Q: You are one of only three Sisters of Mercy still at Saint Joseph’s Hospital. How does that make you feel?
A: It is sad that we don’t have more sisters. When I was in nursing school, we had a sister nurse on every floor. But patients say that this hospital still feels different from others. Saint Joseph’s was founded in 1880 when Atlanta did not have a hospital by four Sisters of Mercy who traveled from Savannah. It was started to care for the sick with dignity, respect and compassion. That “spirit” of compassion and mercy is alive today.