The first career choice for Irene Stemler, RN, BSN, dated to grade school.
My first recollection of even thinking of a career was in fifth grade, she said. I wanted to be an archeologist or an anthropologist or something with unearthing stories of how people lived.
After decades of working in various nursing settings, Stemler is telling stories of those close to her heart nurses.
A career that has spanned work as a nurse from pediatrics and NICU to long-term care and assisted living allowed Stemler to hear plenty of stories.
Along with her current work as a nurse recruiter at Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Hines, Ill., she travels the U.S. as an exhibitor and author of the 2009 book, Heroic Acts in Humble Shoes: Americas Nurses Tell Their Stories.
I think its important for nurses to hear each others stories in a very down-to-earth way, she said. Its such a powerful experience. The nurse and I inevitably end up crying sometime during the telling. Many times, this is the first time this nurse has been able to share this story.
Stemler, who interviews nurses about triumph, tragedy and everything in between, said stories were an integral part of her work as a case manager.
I felt that I was really, truly a patient advocate, and I was able to use my storytelling skills to work with insurance case managers, she said. Whenever I started a new case with someone … I always told them more about the patient. I would create a story around the patients experience. I thought it was very empowering. It made it more human.
While working at a Chicago hospital in 2001, she noticed a display called Shoes of Famous Chicagoans. From Mayor Richard M. Daleys worn wing tips to former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippens size 15 basketball sneakers to a ballerinas frequently mended slippers to the boots a firefighter wore while saving a grandmother from a burning building, Stemler was enthralled. I thought, Here we are in a hospital. Where are the nurses shoes? Stemler said.
After bringing up the question to co-workers, Stemler was encouraged to begin her own collection. Thats how it started, she said.
In the book, nurses stories are introduced with pictures of their shoes instead of their faces. I comment on shoes all the time to people I dont even know, Stemler said. Theres so much more you learn about a person [from their shoes].
The pages are graced with a Chicago professors open-toed sandals, a Texas neuroscience nurses shoes with cats faces on the toes and a critical care nurse from Georgias worn sneakers that reside a few pages from his Army nurse sons combat boots.
Its interesting to [read about] other nurses across the spectrum, she said. Were all alike. We have the same goals and the same things that motivate us. It just happens to be a different type of unit, or the patients a little taller.
Amid all the stories, she has heard nurses frustrations as well. Its from not being able to be a nurse and really do your work as a nurse, said Stemler, who noted nurses often integrate patient care with non-nursing tasks. That takes away from the time [a nurse] can actually talk to somebody who was going for a mastectomy the next day.
Stemler encouraged nurse leaders to say a thank you. Thats the beginning of creating a healthier work force.
During her work interviewing nurses, Stemlers family members asked her to interview them as well.
I brought my tape recorder and my notes, said Stemler, who heard about the family farm in Poland, her mothers four siblings and the familys journey to the U.S.
For the first time, she learned about the work her grandfather did. [He] was a shoemaker, Stemler said. I feel as if Im following in his footsteps in a weird way. Its not a fluke.
Barry Bottino is a regional editor for Nursing Spectrum.
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