Remaining a Student is Key, Stephens Retires After 46 Years
Gerry Stephens, R.N., who recently retired from MidMichigan Medical Center – West Branch after 46 years of service, poses with a set of twins she was “honored” to be a part of the miracle of their birth.
Gerry Stephens began her nursing career at MidMichigan Medical Center – West Branch in 1972 as a candy striper while still in high school. She knew, she said, from a very young age, that she wanted to “help people.” And that she did. Stephens helped many, many people over the years. She is retiring after 46 years of dedicated service at the Medical Center.
“There are so many people – mentors – that made me the nurse I am today,” said Stephens. “So many great nurses and fellow employees before me. So many that taught me. Guided me. Supported me. I couldn’t have done it without them. I am no more special than they are.”
But many who worked alongside Stephens disagree. She is, they say, ‘very special.’
“She is nothing less than exemplary,” said Donald Thorner, R.N., manager, Surgical Services at MidMichigan Medical Center – West Branch. “Gerry is someone you want to emulate or otherwise base your own nursing practice on. She is one of the most caring and compassionate nurses I have ever met. She has been an asset to my post-surgery team, the Medical Center, and the nursing profession.”
Stephens earned her Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) degree in 1976 and began working on the Medical Unit. In 1977 she was asked to move to the Obstetrics Unit (OB), an assignment she said she found “terrifying.”
“I was scared to go to the Obstetrics Unit. What did I know about babies? I wasn’t even a mother yet,” said Stephens. “But Elizabeth Holmes, then director of nursing, promised that if after six to eight weeks I wanted to return to the Medical Unit, I could. So I gave it a try.”
And as the story goes, Stephens went to the OB Unit, loved the unit, and dedicated 33 years of her career to it. She quickly discovered that she loved working with new mothers and their babies and knew it was her calling, or as she refers to it, her “ministry.”
“I loved everything about the OB Unit,” she said. “I loved being a part of the team that brought new life into this world. I loved being a part of the miracle of birth. I especially loved multiple births. Those minutes between the birth of twins or triplets was so exciting.”
Stephens said she was lucky to be a part of the delivery of many sets of twins and two sets of triplets over the years. Perhaps her love of multiple births is tied to her own heredity, as she also is a twin.
The highlight of her career in the OB Unit, she said, was witnessing the delivery of triplets and caring for them and then 20 years later, being a part of the delivery when one of the triplets, a son, became the parent of twins.
In 1991, Stephens earned her degree in nursing and said she never lost the desire to learn. She often volunteered to work in the other nursing units so that she didn’t become “stagnant.”
“To be good at anything, you must remain a student,” she said. “You must always be willing to learn. I had a lot of really good nurses teach me what being a good nurse looked like. It wasn’t always textbook learning. It was observing interactions, understanding the importance of integrity, and building a strong foundation and then standing on it.
“I am the nurse I am today because of the great nurses that came before me.”
Stephens said she has taken every opportunity she could over the years to teach and mentor young nurses. After all, she said, “as nurses we are also teachers.”
In 2010 the decision was made to close the OB Unit at the Medical Center. Stephens found herself looking for her next “ministry.”
“While I was sad to see the unit close, I was excited for the new experiences ahead of me,” she said. “I am a very optimistic person and knew things would work out exactly how they were meant to.”
And work out, they did. After a year in the Emergency Department, Stephens found her home in the Medical Center’s Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU).
“My favorite memory of Gerry happens every single day,” said Orthopedic Surgeon Patrick Morse, M.D. “She is most commonly the first person to arrive in the recovery room and I am also there very early on my OR days. She greets me every morning with a big smile. I can't help but start my day with a smile on my face, because of Gerry's infectious, ever-present smile.”
Mark Weber, M.D., orthopedic surgeon and vice president of medical affairs at MidMichigan Medical Center – West Branch, said Stephens is “one of the best.”
“When I talk to the family after surgery, I tell them that their family member is being cared for by one of our best,” he said. “I tell them she may keep the patient under her care a bit longer than average, but that they can trust their family member is being cared for extremely well.”
Don Thorner agreed. “Gerry is 100 percent ‘game on’ at work. She is vigilant over any changes in a patient’s condition and quick to respond. She is a strong spiritual person who literally lights up any room she walks into. Honestly, she is in a great mood to start off, upbeat and ready to face the day despite what struggles lay ahead; a forever optimist. This spirit is contagious. She sets the tone as well as the bar.”
Stephens and her husband Denis, have two sons and four grandchildren. She said her plan for retirement is to spend more time with them and her father, who is a “young” 92. She said she will never quit serving and anticipates exciting things ahead.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to work at MidMichigan Medical Center – West Branch,” she said. “I had many opportunities over the years to leave but chose to stay because I love this hospital, the people who work here and the community we serve. I am excited about the affiliation with MidMichigan Health and see great things in the future for our Medical Center. I am humbled to be part of its past.”