Pat "Pinky" Pinkerton has been working at St. Elizabeth Health Center in Youngstown, Ohio, since JFK was president and nurses wore white caps and stood up whenever a doctor entered the room. Last January, Pinkerton celebrated 50 years at the hospital, where she started as a direct care nurse, was a head nurse for nearly 30 years, and has been a case manager for the last 20 years. During her career, Pinkerton earned a bachelor's degree in applied science from Youngstown State University and bachelor's and master's degrees in nursing from the University of Akron. And she's been an eyewitness to a half-century of dramatic changes in the health care field.
Laura Putre interviewed Pinky Pinkerton as part of Hospitals & Health Networks' yearlong series, Generations in the Workplace. The series examines the variety of challenges and opportunities that hospitals face by having four generations of employees working side by side — from the so-called silents like Pinkerton, to the baby boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Yers, also known as millennials. You can read the latest installment, "The March of the Millennials," here.
And here's Laura's interview with Pinky Pinkerton:
How are the demands of the job different from what they were in the 1960s?
When I started, nurses were just beginning to start an IV. You didn't start an IV, you didn't [take] blood. Most of the things that nurses do today are procedures that the doctors did back then.
Are the new nurses prepared for these tasks?
At the diploma school I graduated from [a three-year program], you had a lot of clinical practice. You were in class a few hours a day, and then you worked in the hospital every day of the week. You worked days, evenings and nights. You got to experience all the different shifts, and on the weekends.
Today, maybe they have clinical one day a week and they don't learn the same way we did. They don't have hands-on [training]. They're getting simulated practice, with computers. And, most hospitals have to set up orientation for the nurses. They might go through a six-week or three-month orientation session where they work with the nurse as their preceptor, and they're learning to do a lot of these things. They have to learn some of the procedures — such as how to be a leader and how to interact with the health care team. I'll take a diploma nurse any day!
Because they have the people skills?
Yes, and the experience. The associate degree nurses have one to two years, so they're getting very little clinical experience. They come to a hospital and they're thrown into it, and they have five or six patients, and it's, "What do I do?" and "How do I do it?" and "How do I organize?"
If you were a young person today, would you go into nursing?
I think so. Most of the time, you have to look for your own satisfaction from it. Sometimes it's a smile or a family will say, "Thank you for helping me get Mom in a nursing home." So many different things.
In the beginning, patients were basically healthier and up and around in the hospital. You had a few sick ones. It was shortly after that, when intensive care units started, and with all the changes in technology, the care the patients require has increased. You're doing open hearts and all the equipment that goes with that. Changes in technology enable patients to survive.
Back then, most patients would go home with their family and maybe have a visiting nurse come once or twice. We had extended family helping; today, most of the patients in the hospital are sick and still need something when they leave. They're just finishing their acute phase and then, "OK, where do they go?" We don't have extended families around as we used to, with the mobility of the population. And they're looking to go to nursing homes or long-term acute care hospitals.
There have been so many changes in technology. How have you adapted?
I'm not a computer person. Give me a paper and pencil any time. But you kind of work at it and work at it, trial and error, and you ask somebody. This morning I was having trouble with a certain program and my co-worker said, "Here's an easier way." You have to be positive in order to learn, to adapt and to continue to do your job.
Do you like working with younger nurses coming in?
Sometimes it's hard to get where they're coming from. Sometimes I wonder why they went into nursing. Are they doing it just as a job and its mobility, for the money, or did they go into it with some thought of caring and helping people? Because to my thinking, a nurse has to have those inclinations.
Are more going into it for the money and mobility?
Some of them are, and some are people who have lost their jobs so they see or hear something, and say "Oh well, I'm going to try that." Some do very well, and then there are others who I think really aren't cut out to be a nurse. You have to like people and be able to work with people. That's what you do all day. If you're not a people person, it makes it rough.