By Laura Raines
“Opportunity” is the word that Paulina Wielogorska uses most often when talking about her nursing career in the United States. She became a nurse in her native Poland and worked there for five years before winning a green card lottery and emigrating to this country.
“I had worked as an au pair for a year in the States before becoming a nurse, and [I] knew I wanted to come back,” she said.
Wielogorska, RN, CMSRN, and her husband, Jeff, moved to New York City to live with friends. She had six months to find a job, so she contacted a Polish agency that had ties to Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta. Piedmont officials interviewed Wielogorska and hired her over the phone.
“My nursing education was approved by the Board of Nursing here, but I still had to pass the NCLEX [National Council Licensure Examination],” she said.
Wielogorska, 36, and her husband came from Poland with nothing, but the nurses and staff at Piedmont welcomed them and helped the couple furnish their first home.
Wielogorska first worked as a nurse extern with a preceptor for four months. She studied for the NCLEX and passed the exam in 2006. Today, she works in the 6 North medical-surgical unit at Piedmont Hospital.
The family has put down roots in Atlanta. Her husband became a U.S. citizen and is considering getting an MBA. They have two children and Wielogorska has been busy becoming a nurse leader.
“My preceptor showed me the way. She raised me as an American nurse and I was so motivated to learn,” Wielogorska said. “The perception of nurses is so different here than in Poland. Patients appreciate you and doctors consult with you. You can change things.”
Wielogorska started working as a Level 1 nurse, but has risen to a Level 3 nurse at Piedmont through her education and volunteer work. She has earned the national certification for medical- surgical nurses and is a preceptor for new international nurses.
She has served as chair of Piedmont’s Med-Surg Council and the hospital’s Nurse Practice Council.
“Here, nurses can be involved in policy and practice decisions, and people listen to us. I feel like I have a voice,” she said.
She is also making a difference in her profession. In 2007, Wielogorska received the Daisy Award, sponsored by the Daisy Foundation. She was nominated by a patient’s family who said she went above and beyond in her care.
“Maybe in the future, I’ll go back to school but I don’t know whether I want to go into nursing management or become a nurse practitioner. In Poland, we don’t have mid-level practitioners,” she said. “I’m proud to be a nurse here and thankful for the opportunity to grow.”
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, we asked some more nurses to tell us why they’re thankful to work in their profession. Here's what they said:
“I work with such a competent and compassionate team of nurses. That’s huge to me. They give such good care to all our patients, and as a supervisor, I’m thankful for that.
“I’m grateful that I was called to be a nurse who can bring comfort with a hug, a smile or a prayer; to just hold people’s hands or sit with them in silence. I’m thankful to be comfortable in that role.
“I’m also thankful for Melissa Sisson, our director of women’s services, who hired me 19 years ago in labor and delivery. She’s a great inspiration and role model.”
Erin Smith, RN, clinical supervisor, Atlanta Perinatal Consultants, Northside Hospital Women’s Services
“I’m thankful every day for the opportunity to teach people who want to become nurses. All I have to do for inspiration is step outside my office door and a student is eager to share an amazing moment about caring for someone [who is] vulnerable or afraid, and the difference she made.
“I am also thankful for amazing nurse colleagues who want to make a difference in our society. They aren’t in the profession for money or power, goodness knows, but they want more good in the world — more caring, more wonder, more peace, more dignity for all humans.”
Maeve Howett, Ph.D., APRN, CNP-Ped, IBCLC, co-director, Southeast Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit at Emory University; assistant clinical professor, Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing
“I’m so thankful to be able to reassure new moms. I have worked in pediatrics for 25 years and I have three grown children and two grandchildren, so I have a lot of experience.
“I handle a lot of the phone triage in our office. Moms call in to talk about everything, from nursing to injuries to pink eye. I can solve a lot of problems and reassure them that what they are doing is all they can do, or make sure they talk with the doctor.
“I also enjoy the bonds I form with children who come here as newborns and leave as 18-year-olds. I like being a familiar face they know and trust. Some of my former patients are bringing in their own babies now.”
Brenda Bryant, LPN, back-office supervisor, West Atlanta Pediatrics
“I’m thankful for the people I’ve met along the way through nursing. I’ve seen the dedication of nurses and doctors and the courage of families. I got into nursing because a friend of mine was killed in an auto accident. He lived three days and his nurses encouraged me to become a nurse to honor him.
“I’m thankful for where it has led me. Nursing challenges make me to think deeper and keep looking for answers. There are no career limitations. I work at CHOA, as a flight nurse and as an educator for Phillips Medical Division; there’s never any monotony.”
“I’m glad for the opportunity to volunteer at Camp Braveheart and to see children that I had cared for in the CICU at Egleston Hospital play and just be children. I’m also thankful to pass along my experience to new nurses, to see their enthusiasm to learn and grow, to see the look in their eye when they realize what nursing is all about, that ability to touch the life of another.”
Richard Lamphier, RN, nurse in the cardiac cath lab, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Sibley Heart Center
“During my childhood, my mother became deathly ill, requiring hospitalization and surgery. A month later, she was discharged from the hospital with an open wound requiring dressing changes twice a day. As the oldest child at home, I was assigned to assist my mother in wound care. With great anticipation and nearly fainting at the sight of open flesh, I was able to assist and observe open-wound care until it healed completely. This, truly, was an amazing experience that left an impression on my life, which was the beginning of a love affair with the sick.
“As far back as I can recall, I have always had a desire or a need to nurture the soul... to aid in the process of healing to recovery. I truly believe that is my destiny in life... I feel a sense of gratitude and thankfulness that I had the opportunity to give unconditionally to the sick.”
Cheryl Sewell, BSN, RN, nurse shift manager for Renal Services (Unit 62), Emory University Hospital Midtown
“As a nurse, the concept that stands out in my mind for which I am truly thankful is the desire to serve.
“My desire to help others runs deep within my roots. I credit my mother and grandmother for being the catalysts that sparked my desire to serve others and to become a nurse. My grandmother would cook and bake for people in the neighborhood and those less fortunate. She always told me it was better to give than receive. My mother took us to the local nursing home to teach us the value of giving to others.
“I have so much love around me [a husband and three children] that it inspires me to give love in the hope that I can make someone else feel as special as I do.
“I am truly thankful for what God has done in my life. I have come from a small town in Mississippi, and now I am here to leave my mark at Emory University Hospital Midtown. What a great honor it is to give and serve others.”
Katrina Dennis, RN, BSN, nurse shift manager, Unit 52, Renal Services, Emory University Hospital Midtown
“Nursing has been a calling for me and with Veterans Day approaching, I’m especially thankful to have the opportunity to provide care and services for our nation’s heroes: the men and women who serve our country. I’m passionate about working with veterans and have worked at three different VA hospitals.
“I’m very proud to work at the Atlanta VA, which became a magnet-designated facility in 2009. It’s humbling to work in a culture of health care professionals who provide such excellent care.
“I’m also proud to be the first Caritas Coach in Georgia and to be leading a Caritas team at the VAMC (Atlanta) based on Jean Watson’s Caring Theory of Nursing. We foster creating a healing environment by showing nurses how to demonstrate loving kindness to self and others. When the staff is nurtured, patient outcomes are positive. We are seeing significant changes here, and I’m thankful to be a part of it.”
Cheryl T. Handy, MN, RN, NE-BC, associate nurse executive, Medical Specialty Services, Atlanta VA Medical Center
“After all these years, what matters to me the most is to be a part of people’s lives when they are most vulnerable. You may just know them for two minutes, but already you are a part of their history. There is nothing as valuable as that.
“Normally, it takes years to learn to trust someone, but when you walk into a room as a nurse, patients trust you. They put their lives in your hands. That’s pretty serious stuff, and a lot of responsibility. I’m thankful for that trust. I’m grateful that I can take care of people, and I don’t take the job lightly.”
Christiane Fukuda, RN, MSN, ANP-BC, PMC, nurse practitioner and clinical nurse specialist, med-surg unit, Northside Hospital
“ ‘Thankful’ does not seem a strong enough word to describe my feelings about being a nurse. ‘Honored’ comes closer. I am honored to be involved in some of the most intimate and sacred moments that patients and their families experience as they struggle with their illness and make decisions about their lives. The trust that is handed over to us as nursing professionals is a gift and should always be seen as such.
“ ‘Blessed’ is also a word that comes to mind when reflecting on what I do for a living. What I do matters every day to somebody — maybe too many somebodies. Even if it’s a little thing, a bit of encouragement or teaching or recognizing a small problem before it becomes a big one, it matters. It changes things.
“Being a nurse is a demanding role and one that you cannot NOT give your all to, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Jen Lawson, RN, telehealth specialist, Visiting Nurse (Atlanta)
“I’m thankful to God that he gave me the wisdom and knowledge and support to go to nursing school. I had many good role models, as I was a [nurse] technician for about 15 years. I kept finding myself training my new boss, so I finally went to Salem State College in Salem, Mass., to get my nursing degree. As soon as I got to school, I knew nursing was for me.
“Later, I was invited into the operating room to work and fell in love with it. For me, there’s no better place to work.”
Dorothy Graves, BSN, CNOR, staff nurse, operating room, DeKalb Medical, main campus
“I am thankful for my Kaiser Permanente OB/GYN team and the strides we’re making to screen patients for breast cancer. I am also thankful for my family and co-workers. I believe laughter is the key to a happy life, and I am thankful for all the little chuckles we enjoy along the way.”
Cheryl Warren, RN, OB/GYN, Kaiser Permanente TownPark Medical Center
“I am thankful for having compassion for my patients. It makes me humble and sensitive to what they need. It helps me to work harder to assist them every day.
“I am most grateful for my parents and their willingness to support me and my son. They are loving and helpful, and I don’t know what I would do without them.”
Sonja Morrison, RN, nurse in maternal/fetal medicine, Kaiser Permanente Brookwood at Peachtree Medical Office
“I’m thankful to be an employee of an organization that thrives not only on the quality of life of their families, but also their employees. I’m thankful I can provide a great quality of life to my family in poor, stressful economic times. Every day is a gift to enjoy.”
Victoria Alberti, RN, manager, Kaiser Permanente of Georgia Breast Health program, Kaiser Permanente Glenlake Medical Center
“I’m fortunate to have always known what I wanted to do. I was playing nurse in the backyard at 5 years old. I never had second thoughts for a minute.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity to take care of patients, to educate them and give them the knowledge that will help them lead healthier lives.
“In a nutshell, I’m thankful that I can wake up every day and do what I love to do. I’m so blessed.”
Christy Lee, CMSRN, surgical director, Emory Johns Creek Hospital
“I chose nursing after seeing the impact that nurses had on my grandparents and mom when they were in the hospital. I admired what they did.
“I’m thankful for gifts that God has given me to take care of patients and to be able to make a difference in their lives. Our heart transplant patients have been given a second chance at life. To be part of that process is absolutely amazing. But nursing is a team sport, and I’m thankful for my teammates.”
Kelly Sutton, RN, staff nurse, cardio-thoracic step down unit, Emory University Hospital
— Compiled by Laura Raines