Last year was challenging to medical professionals. With the COVID-19 pandemic rousing uncertainty, we looked to health care professionals across the world for guidance and care. Nurses put their own lives on the frontlines to fight the disease, which is still the case into 2021. Because of this, last year’s theme for the National Nurses Week, “The Year of the Nurse and Midwife,” has been extended to 2021.
National Nurses Week is celebrated annually from May 6 to May 12, culminating on Florence Nightingale’s birthday, who is often revered as the Founder of Modern Nursing. In celebration of the medical profession, medical facilities around the world recognize their nursing staff and the contributions they make toward patient care.
At Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, National Nurses Week is broadened to recognize other impactful medical professionals, dubbing the week-long celebration Nurse, Medic, Tech Week. As part of this celebration of the medical professions, leaders select a team member to represent their fields and are lauded as the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse, Registered Nurse, Licensed Practical Nurse, Medic and Technician of the Year.
With only six months in her position, Tiffany Wood, a registered nurse at LRMC’s Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU), managed to nab LRMC’s selection as the Registered Nurse of the Year.
Originally hoping to become a physician, Wood was always interested in the medical field but states life as a military spouse made it difficult to dedicate the necessary time and effort required to fulfill the M.D. curricula.
“I always knew that I wanted to be in the medical field, I actually had my first degree in biology,” said the Houston native. “A couple of years later, I decided medical school is kind of out of the picture, so I jumped into an accelerated nursing program.”
Following graduation, Wood states she “jumped into the waters” with her first nursing position as an emergency room nurse but fell in love with the high-demanding job, then the COVID-19 pandemic occurred.
“As you can imagine, (COVID-19) turned the entire world upside down. Especially being a frontline, registered nurse with only, at this point, a little over a year out of nursing school,” said Wood. “That's when I realized you rise by lifting others. It takes an entire team to save people's lives, especially when we're having a brand new pandemic disease that we're still trying to figure out.”
It’s Wood’s teamwork mentality, echoed by many of LRMC’s health care professionals which reflects the selfless service LRMC dedicates to its patients.
“I love taking care of people. I always found I'm really good with I guess customer care services but being able to get hands on and help with healing, it's a unique honor to be able to be part of that process,” said Wood.
While health care professions are a choice and only a job for some individuals, U.S. Army Capt. Mario Vergara, clinical nurse officer in charge of LRMC’s Family Medicine Clinic and a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), was intrigued by the need for health care professionals during the height of the war. For Vergara, who was selected as LRMC’s Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) of the Year, his Army career began with ROTC and a nursing scholarship.
“I wanted to be an expert in my field,” said Vergara, a native of El Paso, Texas. “(Soldiers) get thrown into many different jobs at different locations and I think just bringing your passion to whatever you do, is absolutely by far, one of the best things to get you to where you want to be.”
Advanced practice registered nurses are graduate-prepared nurses, master or doctorate degrees, with advanced skills, education and training in their specialty. In the Army, APRNs usually consist of nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), and nurse midwives (CNMs).
Vergara, who only has two years as an APRN, was instrumental in inpatient care processes and standardization as LRMC initially grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The (CNS) mission for the inpatient (wards) had a lot of impact with COVID-19 presenting itself in Germany,” said Vergara, crediting other nurse-researchers and instructors at LRMC for his success. “CNSs typically work behind the scenes to make things happen. Over the last year I strived to prove my worth to the organization.”
Proving selfless service has no rank, U.S. Army Pfc. Ragan Padgett, a healthcare specialist (formerly known as combat medic) with the Internal Medicine Clinic at LRMC was selected as the Medic of the Year for her contributions.
“I've always been interested in the medical field. I took medical classes in high school, and I even got my (certification as a nursing assistant) before enlisting,” said Padgett, a native of Hickory, North Carolina. “I knew I was going to be able to do more (medically) in the Army than I would in the civilian world, so I enlisted.”
Although LRMC is Padgett’s first assignment in the Army following basic training, over the course of her short tour she states she’s learned to become more versatile, adaptable and detailed when it comes to patient care.
“I feel like knowing that I'm helping someone is probably the most rewarding aspect of my job,” said Padgett.
With a full career ahead of her, Padgett intends to continue her education toward a nursing degree with hopes of becoming a critical care nurse.
While most of the selectees chose their current positions as they considered professions in the healthcare field, some welcomed a change in past positions.
For Urim Kasami, a gastroenterology technician at LRMC’s Gastroenterology Clinic who was selected as LRMC’s Technician of the Year, the change came with the move to Germany from serving as a laboratory technician for 12 years to gastroenterology.
“The positions for laboratory technicians were limited but I've had prior experiences in the surgical field,” explains Kasami. “I was really interested in coming back into the same kind of a field where I have a little more patient interaction, helping with procedures and stuff.”
Although a change from specimens and test tubes, Kasami’s efforts and his approach to collaboration were impactful for LRMC’s Gastroenterology Clinic, as evidenced with his dedication to duty.
“Being the only facility outside United States to provide (four combatant commands) gastroenterology services is big, and yet there’s only so much we can do because of COVID-19,” said Kasami, a native of North Andover, Massachusetts. “It's been challenging, but hopefully we'll be able to provide 100 percent services again.
“I can’t say (I was selected) because I'm great, I'm not. Being a team player is like an orchestra and I'm just one instrument playing in the background,” said Kasami. “Without everybody's contribution you can’t have nice music.”
Early in Kathy Canady’s career, a licensed practical nurse at LRMC’s Plastic Surgery Clinic who was selected as LRMC’s Licensed Practical Nurse of the Year, she was not involved in health care whatsoever but a national tragedy put Canady back in uniform and on the frontlines.
Following an enlistment in the Marine Corps, Canady earned her nursing degree and was working in civilian positions when 9/11 occurred. Selflessly, Canady put her medical experience to work as a Navy Corpsman following the attacks, deploying nine times and serving over 20 years before retiring out of the Navy Reserves.
“I enjoyed taking care of people. As a Marine I was an avionics technician. Although I enjoyed fixing things, I'd rather fix people,” explains the Dayton, Ohio native. “I've served in almost every capacity that a licensed practical nurse is allowed to under their scope of practice. I've deployed around the world, but to work here at LRMC has always been a dream. (LRMC) has always been the castle on the hill for any corpsman or any person in uniform that's ever been (in combat). I've always said that I wanted to be part of that legacy.”
“In my eyes, I just continue to take care of people, that's what I love to do,” said Canady. “I have the opportunity to still continue to serve and to take care of our uniformed members and their families. I'm very humbled and honored that I was selected as LPN of the year.”
As a former Marine and retired Navy corpsman, Canady’s service to country spans decades but says her employment at LRMC is “a dream come true.”