Beth Day laughs when asked if the next steps of her nursing career journey will carry her from the nursing unit into administration.
“I don’t really know,” said Day, MS, RN, CCNS, CCRN. who works as a clinical nurse specialist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “But my husband, he keeps saying, ‘Yes, you will. You know you will.’”
Day’s career arc is following a path taken by generations of her family before her, including most recently by her mother, Anne Hammes, MS, RN, NEA-BC, who recently retired as director of nursing at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford, Ill. Day and Hammes are the latest in a line of four generations of women in their family who have pursued careers in nursing.
Hammes said the nursing stories in her family are rich, weaving a path through the history of nursing and medicine for more than a century.
According to Hammes, it was her grandmother, Margaret Schroeder Marriott, who first etched a love of healthcare and of caring for patients into the family’s genetic code. Beginning in 1911, Marriott went to work as a private duty nurse, caring for patients in their homes.
“Of course, that kind of work, at that time in our history, it was very basic nursing work,” Hammes said. “Cooking, cleaning, bathing, doing for the patient what they needed done.”
But the stories Marriott told got the attention of both Hammes and her mother, Mary Lou Lonergan, stirring in both women an early love and desire for nursing careers.
Harnessing that passion, Lonergan blazed her own path in nursing, graduating from Briarcliff College in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1939-40, and later from St. Mary School of Nursing at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minn., affiliated with Mayo Clinic.
For Hammes, her grandmother’s stories were inspirational, but her mother’s tales helped solidify her desire to become a nurse.
To begin with, Hammes remembers her mother telling her of a young man who came to the hospital in 1942 for minor surgery before shipping off to fight in the U.S. Navy in World War II. That man, Paul Lonergan, would become Hammes’ father.
Mary Lou Lonergan also told her daughter of a miracle drug patients were administered as part of clinical research trials at the hospital.
“Very, very sick patients would rapidly recover,” Hammes said. “The ‘miracle’ turned out to be penicillin.”
In the middle 1940s, Lonergan moved to Chicago, taking a job at Children’s Memorial Hospital. Then, after taking a break for a few years to raise her children, she moved to Rockford, working at Saint Anthony Medical Center as a nurse and teacher for 20 years before retiring in 1986.
Along the way, Hammes said, her mother became Rockford’s first organ donor, donating a kidney to her son, Jack, in 1966. In 1967, Lonergan was among those who responded to a tornado that ravaged the nearby city of Belvidere.
Mary Lou Lonergan died in 2011 at age 94.
Love of nursing
Hammes followed in her mother’s footsteps, graduating from St. Mary’s School of Nursing in 1970. While there, she worked alongside doctors and nurses at the cutting edge of medicine.
After living in Champaign, Ill., while her husband was completing college, she moved to Rockford, becoming a clinical specialist in intensive care and working at all three of that city’s hospitals before ascending to the role of director of nursing at Saint Anthony. Now 67, Hammes retired in 2012.
But along the way, Hammes and her mother instilled their love of nursing into another generation of the family.
Day, 40, didn’t contract the nursing bug until well into her college career, when an interview with her grandmother for a class project inspired her to pursue a nurse career. So, after obtaining a biology degree, she continued her education and graduated from the accelerated nursing program at Rush University in Chicago.
“In talking with my grandma, I was struck by the differences in nursing then versus now, but also how much of it was the same,” Day said. “People are most often comforted by other people, holding their hands, talking them through things, and that hasn’t changed.”
That lesson, she said, was only reinforced by the example of her mother, who Day credits with caring for people whether in the hospital or elsewhere, including heading to the home of a friend whose husband was dying of cancer daily after work to help tend to their needs.
“I’ve been seeing her do that kind of thing forever,” Day said. “How I practice is based on watching her be a nurse outside of work.”
Day continues to walk the floors of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, where she has worked since graduating 16 years ago. While she has seen some changes, she said her nursing experience has reinforced in her a desire to work with people, even if her future might lie in greater leadership roles.
“I told myself I’d never get a pager,” she said. “Now, unfortunately, I have one. So who knows? But I know, one way or another, I’ll always be working in nursing.”
Certainly, Day’s passion for nursing has been recognized by her peers. She was nominated in 2015 by Nurse.com as a GEM Awards Finalist in the Clinical Inpatient, Nursing category.