ST. GEORGE – With a delicate balance of compassion and strength, nurses care for those in need. They are present during some of life’s most pivotal moments; the birth of a child, a life-changing medical procedure or the final days of a loved one, carrying a sacred trust that everything will happen as it should.
“Nursing is both an art and a science. It is very complex and takes a lot of knowledge, compassion, critical thinking, patience and skill,” said Alice Clegg, a nursing advisor at Dixie State University. “Nurses must reach out to the patient and their family in a time of uncertainty, carry out the care designated by the physician, coordinate with all other departments to make sure the best possible decisions are made for the patient, and do it all with a smile.”
Those who accept the challenges and rewards of this profession are motivated to do so in many ways, but all share a similar desire.
Two nursing stories
Rebecca Doty didn’t set out to be a nurse. But when she was laid off by the struggling Moore Business Forms after 10 years of service, she became eligible for an assistance program that allowed her to go back to school. She jumped at the chance. While attending the former Dixie State College of Utah, she decided to pursue nursing as a career.
It wasn’t until she left the classroom and entered the workforce that she truly knew she had made the right choice.
“I realized that being a nurse wasn’t just my job, it was a lifestyle,” she said. “It was who I was.”
Fifteen years later, Doty works as a case manager at Dixie Regional Medical Center where she is responsible for making sure that all patients on her floor are admitted, treated and discharged appropriately, communicates with insurance companies and arranges care plans for patients with continuing medical complications. It’s an often difficult, but always worthwhile, duty.
“I love being a nurse. I love where and with whom I work,” she said. “I have different experiences with different people all the time that make me glad I chose this profession.”
On the flip side, operating room nurse Kerry Dorius found her inspiration as a child. Born with a deadly heart defect, she underwent open heart surgery at age 2 to guarantee that she would live to see her teenage years. Her memories of this ordeal led her to pursue a profession in healthcare.
“Ever since I was old enough to understand my condition, I knew that I needed to become a nurse to somehow give back to those (who) helped me live,” she said.
Dorius said she believes that being a patient makes her a more effective caregiver, as she understands the surgical process from both perspectives.
“I hope to remember the feelings I felt during my surgeries throughout the rest of my nursing career,” she said. “I know, in many ways, what my patients are going through and it has made me a better, more caring and empathetic nurse.”
Today, Dorius has 13 years of experience under her belt from serving at three hospitals and one surgical center across three states. For most of her career, she kept a demanding schedule that helped put her husband through graduate school. She now works part-time, focusing instead on raising their young children.
Both women’s lives have been deeply impacted by their experiences in nursing.
Doty said: “I think that my nursing philosophy and my religious beliefs are very closely connected. Being a nurse has only solidified my belief in God and life after death. It also has helped me become a more compassionate, patient person. I have learned that I need to treat all people the same, regardless of who they are, where they are from or what they believe, and to support their right to whatever choices they make.”
Dorius said: “To me, nursing means giving the best care possible to our patients by being kind, caring, knowledgeable and patient, values that extend to all areas of life. Our patients are often vulnerable and scared and it is our role to ease their fears and comfort them during their time of need. I strive to do this also as a wife and mother.”
Nursing in Southern Utah vs. elsewhere
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses in Utah earn $59,810 annually and $28.76 hourly, below the national average of $67,930 and $32.66, respectively. Salaries are lower yet for the metropolitan area of southwestern Utah, where nurses earn a yearly average of $57,380.
However, these wages are high among occupations for the state, and nursing, like the majority of health care jobs, is expected to experience faster-than-average employment growth through 2020, according to data from the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
Having worked in Oregon, Colorado and various locations in Utah, Dorius said that local patients are “generally healthy” and appear to lead more active lifestyles than those in other regions.
As her profession straddles the line between education and occupation, Clegg experiences both the good and bad of Southern Utah’s nursing industry.
“There are a lot of students wanting to become registered nurses, and unfortunately we turn away a lot of qualified applicants mostly because we have limits on the number of available faculty and clinical sites,” she said. “However, we want the students to have a superior experience and receive the best possible training; and in order to do that, we must limit our class sizes.”
“One thing I really like about working in Southern Utah is that even though St. George has grown immensely, it still has a relatively small medical community,” Doty said. “I know almost all of the physicians in town and feel that I have a good rapport with them. I also have a close working relationship with most of the home health agencies and rehab centers and I like that.”
Clegg has been asked this question many times throughout her 10-year career, teaching DSU’s introductory nursing class and working with students from the time they enroll until graduation. Being a nurse isn’t easy, she said – the hours are long and the work is hard – but for those who are dedicated to making a difference, it’s worth it.
“I am able to watch the metamorphosis of these students as they transition from the beginning class into fully qualified, knowledgeable nurses,” Clegg said. “I love seeing my dreams fulfilled in the lives of the students who complete our program. I see their determination to succeed as they work to just get accepted, as they struggle to learn at a rapid pace, then pass the licensing exam and find employment as an RN. It’s exciting and rewarding.”
“There are so many areas within nursing where one can work depending on their interest and skill set, from traditional floor nursing to the operating room, hospice to wound clinic, endoscopy to the computer field,” Doty said. “Nursing is a great profession. One of the best things about it is that the opportunities for learning are endless.”
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