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‘Once a nurse, always a nurse’

Retired nurses club brings professionals together at Tallgrass Creek

Created date

June 25th, 2013

Even after you stop working, your former career can still be a way to bond with people who have similar professional backgrounds. That s what a group of 16 retired nurses living at Tallgrass Creek discovered when they formed a retired nurses club. Once a nurse, always a nurse, says club co-chair Paula Dunmire, who lives at the Erickson Living community in Overland Park, Kans. We have a lot in common if you re not a nurse or didn t work in the medical field, you don t understand a lot of things that we do, especially we nurses who started back in the 40s or the 50s. Tallgrass Creek resident Ann Brazil, a retired military nurse, founded the club in May 2012. The idea was born when Ann organized a special event to celebrate National Nurses Week, which takes place each May. Ann has a collection of nurse memorabilia and figurines, which she put on display for the event. Each of the ladies brought a photo of herself in uniform during her training days. We had teas and pastries, and my husband brought a rose for each of the ladies, Ann says. It was really fancy. The group of women shared stories about their careers. They talked about where they went to school and the nursing specialties they pursued. The retired nurses had so much fun reminiscing and swapping stories that they decided to start meeting on a regular basis. Over the last year or so, the group has gotten together every other month for a different activity related to nursing. One month, they watched and discussed a video about two nurses who were captured during World War II. At another meeting, the group hosted a speaker who talked about her career in hospice care. For one of their gatherings, they each read a different book about nursing and then talked about what they learned. We re trying to make it not too formal, Ann says. The idea is just to get together and talk.

My grandma wears combat boots

Many of the members have been eager to hear stories about Ann s career as a military nurse. After graduating from the University of Portland, Ann racked up a number of achievements and unique experiences over her 43-year career. She served for a period in Vietnam and also worked in German hospitals during the first Gulf War. She has worked in several areas of nursing, from the ICU to nursing homes. Ann also worked for the U.S. Army Surgeon General as an inspector, helping hospitals get ready for accreditation. She earned her master s degree while on active duty and also did a lot of teaching in the Army. It was really an interesting career, Ann says. Being in the Army Nurse Corps is very competitive; it forced me to do things I wouldn t have thought I could do. I consider it a privilege to take care of GIs. Ann retired from the Army Nurse Corps as a lieutenant colonel when she was 54. She recalls proudly that her grandson used to have a t-shirt that read: My grandma wears combat boots. After retiring as an army nurse, Ann continued to work as a civilian nurse for several more years until she retired her license. I considered being a nurse a blessing, Ann says. It s a calling.

Name that nurse

Ann says the Tallgrass Creek retired nurses club includes women from a variety of different nursing backgrounds, including nurses who formerly worked in the operating room, psychiatric ward, and in schools, as well as two retired vocational nurses. Ann says she always keeps her ears open to learn when new nurses move to Tallgrass Creek. I m on the hospitality committee, so I find out right away, Ann says. The new ones embrace the club immediately, and it s a great way for them to meet new people. This year, the retired nurses club took on a fun project that got the entire Tallgrass Creek community involved. Different residents and clubs take turns maintaining displays in glass cases outside of the community s classroom. The nurses threw their caps in the ring for a chance at decorating the cases. When they got their turn, the ladies decided to display the photos of each member in her uniform during her training days. The catch was that the ladies didn t identify themselves. Ann says their friends and neighbors were having fun trying to guess who was who. Reflecting on the images in those photos, Paula, who worked in many areas of nursing from maternity to gerontology, says nursing attire has evolved since the early days of her career. We all had to wear caps and starched uniforms. We had to wear white shoes with white hose with seams up the back, Paula recalls. Those uniforms looked cute, but they weren t very practical.