By Jennifer Clampet, WBAMC Public AffairsMay 14, 2012
The monitor beeps with a warning. Duty calls.
A mother braces her child for his first vaccination. Duty calls.
The doctor pauses before surgery for the patient brief. Duty calls.
Worldwide tens of thousands of nurses -- military and civilian -- answer the call to duty to treat Soldiers and their families.
"We're the watchmen for the patient," said Lt. Col. Robert Kent, chief of critical care nursing at William Beaumont Army Medical Center.
"We stand watch at their bedsides for 24 hours. Doctors come in and check on the patients, but nurses are always there."
At WBAMC, more than 800 nurses -- registered nurses and licensed vocational nurses -- answer the unyielding call for service.
Alex Romero, an RN at WBAMC, remembers sitting next to the bedside of a dying 95-year-old patient in the Intensive Care Unit.
"The patient said that he lived longer than his friends and was happy that he had lived that long," Romero said.
"He didn't have any family in this area, so I sat with him that evening as he quietly passed away. He was ready to go."
Nurses at WBAMC have held beating hearts in their hands. Others have watched as those scorched by fire fight for life. Most have seen the resiliency of children bouncing back from illness and infections.
All have seen life and death, serving at the bedsides of inpatients and at the hurried front-desk counters of outpatient departments.
From May 7-11 WBAMC celebrated those medical professionals in honor of National Nurses Week.
"It's not about nurses recognizing nurses," Kent said. "It's about others recognizing nurses."
In the Army the nearly 150-year-old profession easily harkens back to the days of Florence Nightingale on the frontlines of the Crimean War.
Nightingale -- a nursing pioneer whose birthday is observed on May 12 as part of Nurses Week -- had a passion for patient advocacy. She founded the first school of nursing in the mid-1800s. Nightingale later mentored Linda Richards -- a woman who is often referred to as "America's first trained nurse."
Today, the United States has more than 3 million registered nurses.
The Army Nurse Corps -- which today has more than 40,000 nurses worldwide -- became a permanent corps of the medical department under the U.S. Army Reorganization Act in 1901 and became the regular Army Nurse Corps, a branch in the U.S. Army Medical Department, in 1947.
"I wanted to find a way to help my country by actually helping others," said Kent, a former enlisted infantryman who served in combat with the 3rd Rangers Battalion.
A battlefield convert, Kent said he wanted a job where he could help people.
"If you always place the needs of the patient first, you are always right," said Col. John Modell, senior chief executive nurse at WBAMC, during a brief opening ceremony for Nurses Week celebrations.
The sentiment echoes the Army Nurse Corps' Patient Care Touch System -- which places the patient at the center of a team of healthcare workers intent on treating that patient.
Through the system, the Army Nurse Corp has seen an increase in patient and staff satisfaction and a decrease in medical errors.
"A patient just knows that he's in pain," said Sgt. 1st Class Julian Chaparro, section NCOIC of the Department of Nursing at WBAMC.
"We as nurses are advocates for our patients."
Serving in the ranks of the largest healthcare profession in the country, nurses strive to improve health care.
"The patients who bug you the most, who come at you the most, they are the ones who need you (the nurse) the most," said Monica Murillo, an LVN at the Hugo V. Mendoza Soldier Family Care Center's immunization clinic.
At the WBAMC operating room department, 1st Lt. Maria Negron, RN, recognizes the importance of the last few seconds before a patient is put under anesthesia. They look around at the sterile and cold environment. The worry creeps across their faces.
"The respect you have for another human being, it's crucial for everyone," Negron said. "It's about being able to help them, and say 'relax, I'll do my part.'"