Nurses are strong, nurturing and selfless

Woven within our communities are strong, nurturing and selfless people. We call them nurses.

They are the trusted professionals we turn to when we’re sick and hurting. But nurses don’t just practice at the bedside. They bring their caring, thinking, teaching, problem-solving, get-it-done qualities into our families, schools, churches, businesses, legislatures and neighborhoods — and we’re all the richer for it.

We profiled three nurses who exemplify qualities that describe many of those who work in the field.

STRONG: Lisa Hedenstrom, Piedmont Healthcare

Lisa Hedenstrom never expected to be a trailblazer. “I went into nursing because I wanted to help people and make a difference,” she said.

Last year, Hedenstrom, a senior vice president, became the first systemwide chief nursing officer for Piedmont Healthcare. In her pioneering role, she integrates and standardizes nursing practices across the system’s hospitals, addresses challenges from a big-picture view and represents nurses at the highest level of leadership.

“I have to be the voice of the patient, to bring the presence of nursing to the table, so that we remember this is a health care organization, not just a business,” she said. “Being a strong leader means being self-aware, keeping up with current trends, seeking mentors, asking for feedback and helping to develop the folks you work with.

“I challenge myself and others because when you see growth in people and programs, you know you’re making a difference.”

Hedenstrom practiced psychiatric, cardiac and oncology nursing while moving up the management ranks and earning master’s degrees in nursing and business. She’s finishing her doctorate degree at Georgia State University and serves on the Georgia Board of Examiners of Licensed Practical Nurses.

Hedenstrom also has raised five children, been a foster parent and recently survived an automobile accident and cancer.

“Being a patient is humbling. It helps you see what others are going through and what is important,” she said. “I realized I could be effective at impacting change in this setting by never forgetting what nurses do every day. Nurses underestimate themselves and don’t realize just how valuable they are.”

She loves what she does and plans to keep learning and growing.

“When you know something is worthwhile, you just have to keep at it,” she said.

NURTURING: Lane Begin, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

Volunteering with medical missionaries in her native Brazil led Lane Begin to give up teaching and come to the United States to study nursing. Having a premature son led her to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Her son spent 33 days in the pediatric intensive care unit and Begin fell in love with the specialty of caring for babies. Begin has worked in the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite for 16 years.

The environment is high tech and fast-paced, while her patients are tiny, fragile and critically ill.

“If you can’t see a 1- to 2-pound baby as someone’s child and a human being, then you shouldn’t be here,” she said. “Nurturing is a huge part of being a nurse. We have to be strong — not just for the patients but for the parents, who feel so lost.”

Begin involves parents in care with “hands-on time.” She carefully unhooks monitors, so parents can hold their babies. She shows them how to check vital signs, change diapers and put Vaseline on their baby’s lips.

“It would be so much faster for a nurse to do everything, but that’s not what is best for the baby or the parents,” she said.

Even with the best of care, some infants don’t survive. For nine years, Begin has chaired the bereavement committee for the unit.

“We make followup calls and send notes to parents who have lost a child, on their birthday and Christmas for several years,” she said.

The cards are handwritten and handmade by nurses.

“Our patient population is unique,” Begin said. “Because they come straight to the ICU, we’re the only ones besides the family who knows these kids. The parents need to know that we remember them.”

Begin said her faith sustains her on days that are emotionally draining, but there are also great rewards.

“We have a reunion of former patients and their families every year. It’s awesome to see them growing up,” she said.

SELFLESS: Barbara Burke, WellStar

"Growing up, my mom told us to choose a career where we could give back to the community," said Barbara Burke, a nurse educator for ICU and cardiac/telemetry care at WellStar Douglas Hospital. "My brother is a pharmacist, one sister is a teacher and another is a dietician," she said. "I always wanted to be a nurse. It was my calling and I wouldn't want to do anything else."

Burke, who graduated from Villanova University’s nursing school in 1982, has worked in cardiac critical care, disease management, palliative care and patient advocacy.

Two years ago, she found a new niche by helping to educate staff in the cardiac and intensive care units at WellStar Douglas Hospital. You’ll find her answering questions, training new nurses and solving problems “because you can’t know what is going on and be a help if you’re locked in an office,” she said.

When not working, Burke volunteers at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Marietta and at the Women’s Extension Shelter. She and her husband are active in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic ministry. They often pick up food for the food bank or deliver donations to the charity’s thrift store.

Every other Saturday, Burke visits and takes Holy Communion to Catholic residents in a nursing home.

“Mom is 85, in a nursing home in Pennsylvania. I can’t visit her, so this is my substitute. Do I always want to do it? No, but once I’m there, I’m always glad I did,” she said.

Burke recently took her medical skills to Guatemala, along with doctors, other nurses and volunteers. “There’s so much poverty there. I wanted to do something. We took 28 bags of medicine, rosaries and dresses we had made.”

During four long days, the group treated 1,200 people in rural villages for gastrointestinal ailments, headaches, breathing issues, burns, cuts and infections.

“Most of the medicines we take are simple — the things we take for granted like Tums, vitamins and Tylenol, but to them it’s worth more than gold,” Burke said. “As an educator, I was worried about not being able to communicate, but when you get a big hug and a smile, you know you are doing God’s work and making a difference.”