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Reflecting on 2020: The Year of the Nurse

In honor of the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth, the World Health Organization designated 2020 the "Year of the Nurse." St. Luke's spent the past 12 months shining a light on our more than 1,500 nurses, as well as commemorating Nightingale, a revered hero and trailblazer who is credited as the founder of modern nursing. 

Known as the "Lady with the Lamp," Nightingale (1820-1910) devoted her career to making hospitals cleaner and safer places to treat patients. During Britain's Crimean War in 1854, she conducted rounds on the wounded soldiers in the military hospital at night with a lamp and helped them write letters to loved ones at home. Within weeks of caring for patients, Nightingale and her nurses improved the unsanitary conditions, greatly reducing the death count. She published her writings about infection control, which sparked worldwide healthcare reform. Nightingale’s strong ideals of handwashing, proper sanitation and sound preventive measures became more relevant than ever during this banner year, and to this day, handwashing is one of the single most effective ways to reduce infections in the hospital. 
No one could have expected the "Year of the Nurse" would include a global pandemic. Yet, as intended by the WHO, it has been a year in which nurses have been recognized for their heroic efforts on the frontlines and the critical role they play in healthcare. As 2020 draws to a close, we thank all the nurses within every aspect of the St. Luke’s organization for their dedication, tireless work and unwavering compassion during these unprecedented times.

Just as modern-day nursing foundress Nightingale used her lamp to illuminate the places where nurses worked, we asked St. Luke’s nurses to shed light on why they felt called to the nursing profession and why those chose St. Luke’s as their career home. Read their stories below. 

Barb Pine, NNP - Cardiovascular Associates
"I am always excited when someone asks me what kind of work I do. I am proud to say I am a nurse at St. Luke's Hospital for 37 years now. I like it even more when I'm next asked where I went to nursing school. I answer, 'St. Luke's School of Nursing,' my career was 'born and raised at St. Luke's.' I have always been honored to be a part of the St. Luke's family. I have many lifelong friends that stem from my time here. I have also been able to further my education while working here, now enjoying my nurse practitioner role. I can't imagine any other life."

Micaela Palazzolo, RN, BSN - Assistant Nurse Manager - Division 8600 Orthopedics
I decided to become a nurse after having my son. He was in the PICU, and the nurses there were awesome with the babies and family members. I looked around and told myself that I could do this; not kids, of course, but nursing and taking care of people. I started as a tech on 8600 Rehab in 2006 and have remained here at St. Luke’s throughout my schooling. I love my patients and I love my work family. there is a great sense of teamwork and pride on my floor. I hope to remain here for the duration my nursing career."

Angie Albert, RN - Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit 
"I was a flight attendant with TWA, and I was laid off. While laid off, I thought that a great path would be to be a nurse and 
a flight attendant so I could help those that wanted to travel but needed nursing care. This plan did not work out for me, 
as I was called back to be based out of New York my last semester of nursing school. I could not throw away college 
to fly the friendly skies. So, I stuck with nursing and could not be happier with my choice. The days off and the 
pay have allowed me to be a single mother with ease."

Deb Fehlig, RN, BSN - Assistant Director of Nursing - Nursing Administration
“Growing up, I can remember seeing my mother getting ready to go to work in her white uniform, white stockings, and white shoes. She was an RN in the newborn nursery on the night shift in my hometown. She greatly influenced my nursing career path. I graduated from St. Luke’s School of Nursing as a Diploma RN. I started my nursing career on a medical floor at St. Luke’s East. I loved taking care of the medicine patients which mainly were the elderly. Bedside nursing was such a rewarding experience. I was very lucky to have found a career I truly loved. St. Luke’s was always a great place to work. Not only did they have excellent employees, but skillful nurses and doctors. They provided great benefits, employee functions such as the banquets, educational opportunities, and above all, being able to work in a family-oriented environment. I was able to climb the career ladder in which I had the opportunity to work at St. Luke’s for over 40 years now. I’m proud to say I work at St. Luke’s and above all to say, “I’m a nurse!”

Mary Blessing, RN, BSN, CNML - Nurse Manager - Division 8700 Diabetes/Surgical
“I wanted to be a nurse because at an early age my brother was in and out of the hospital with epilepsy. I witnessed many caring individuals who helped both my parents and my brother through some really stressful times. I thought they were just incredible and were so nice. I wanted to be that person, that nurse. To make a difference in the lives of others is the greatest gift one can give to oneself. I also watched my mom become a nurse and she was incredibly awesome. People I would meet would tell me that my mom was the best nurse they ever had and her co-workers loved working with her. She was tough but for all the right reasons. So, after all this....I asked myself...'Why not?'”

Matt Hartnett, RN, BSN -  Nurse Manager - Division 6500 Intensive Care Unit
“I initially pursued nursing after a re-evaluation of my career goals having earned a degree in graphic design. I was first drawn to the aspect of job security in this field, however, once I became a nurse, my love for this profession became evident. I found and continue to find such satisfaction in providing care to my patients, and I have found real comradery among my peers. Becoming a RN proved to be my calling.”

Hannah Watson, RN, BSN - Division 8700 Diabetes/Surgical
Growing up, I always heard stories from my mom about her career in nursing. She has always been a huge influence in my life, so it was only natural that I followed in her footsteps and became a nurse on the same floor she worked on after graduating nursing school: 8700. Nursing is a lot of hard work, but at the end of the day it is the most rewarding career I could have ever chosen. I love seeing the impact I have on patients in their journeys healing from surgery. St. Luke’s has such an amazing community of both employees and patients. Everyone knows everyone here and it makes going to work that much more exciting to be with people you know and are comfortable with! I’m excited to see where my career in nursing takes me in my lifetime.”

Carol Grotha, RN, BSN - Assistant Director of Nursing - Nursing Administration
I have worked in every area of the hospital except for maternity, which is actually interesting because my original goal was to become a midwife! After many years and experiences I landed in a supervisory role, which I tolerated and it tolerated me! I also did some teaching at the community college and nursing school levels. I always appreciated working at a faith-based hospital. For me, St. Luke’s has been a good place to stay. I love all the people.”

Jessica Tocco, RN, BSN — Nurse Manager — Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit
As a teenager, I experienced the sudden loss of my grandfather after a short stay in the intensive care unit. As I sat beside him in his last moments, I took notice of not only the compassion he received by his nurse, but also her knowledge of heart rhythms, ventilators and medications. The range of skills she demonstrated over that lonely night shift was amazing to me, all while providing comfort to my grandfather and to me.I knew then that nursing was my calling and I never looked back.As a CVICU nurse and nurse leader, I have found that true happiness does come in how much you give to others, whether they are your patients or your co-workers. We are one team, all proud to stand beside one another as we face new challenges every day.”

Joanne Pierro, RN, BSN, CCRN - Clinical Educator - Division 6500 Intensive Care Unit
“I had two role models early on, my big sister, Kathy, and my Godmother, Angie. Both of these wonderful women exhibited strength, grace and class. I wanted to be like them. However, I became someone more intense. I became a critical care nurse because I love being an integral part of a care team. It is amazing to me to treat patients and see positive outcomes.I later joined education to give something back to nursing. Nurses rock!"

Jill Markham, RN  Post Anesthesia Care Unit
“I have been at St. Luke’s for over 45 years.I worked two years as a tech while in nursing school. I started working on March 29, 1976, the day after my graduation. I needed to start earning some money! I took boards in July and didn’t get results until September. Things have certainly changed in that arena. I worked as a staff nurse on 7600 for 3 and-a-half years then came to PACU. That was 40 years ago. I don’t know where the time has gone. One of the reasons I have stayed is because of the family atmosphere. When I started, it seemed like a small town where everyone knew everyone else. As we’ve gotten bigger, I think some of that is still true. I have worked with so many wonderful people. St. Luke’s is a great place to work, and it’s all I have known so I can’t compare it to all the other places. I am glad I made the decision to start with St. Luke’s and to stay with it.”

Cyndi Reil-Niehoff, RN - Post Anesthesia Care Unit
“This year I am celebrating 39 years with St Luke’s Hospital,  36 as an RN. I started working in the gift shop at St. Luke’s East and progressed to a patient care tech. When I graduated from nursing school, I worked as an RN on Division 6600, Labor & Delivery, Respiratory ICU 6900, Community and Corporate Education, Medical/Surgical ICU 6500, and finally PACU. This year marks 20 years in the PACU. I have found many opportunities and experiences at St. Luke’s, so I have not felt the need to leave.I enjoy the daily contact with the many long-term employees. I love meeting the newer employees. The community feel is positive and encouraging at St. Luke’s.”

Joanna Thomaczek, RN, BSN - Operating Room
“I chose nursing because there are so many options within the field and we are able to make a personal connection with our patients and their families. I specifically love the OR because we are able to focus on one patient at a time and build a strong rapport with our physician colleagues.I work at St. Luke’s for the strong opportunities for growth and advancement as well as their ability to retain staff for decades and decades.”

Leah Keating, RN, BSN - Operating Room
"At age six, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. During my time in the hospital, the amazing care my doctors and nurses gave to me (and my parents) always stuck out to me and made me want to be a part of the medical field. Choosing to become a nurse has allowed me to discover my passion for learning and helping patients and their family members at their most vulnerable times. I am especially thankful for the connection this relationship allows me to make with the patient’s that I’ve encountered. St. Luke’s has been a great place for me to continue learning in a brand new, but close-knit environment. My co-workers and managers never fail to offer guidance and support when I need it. I am proud to be part of the OR staff here at  St. Luke’s Hospital!"

Nicole Tognoni, RN, BSN - Division 6500 Intensive Care Unit
“St. Luke’s is the only hospital I have worked at, and after more than 10 years I don’t plan on leaving. I have made some amazing friends and I have learned so much, I couldn’t imagine having the same experience anywhere else. I became a nurse because when you are caring for a patient, it’s real, there’s no selling or being fake. It’s providing comfort to someone else and their loved ones, which in turn, gives me comfort knowing that I have helped in some way. The best feeling is seeing a patient walk back into the ICU just to say ‘hi’ or ‘thank you,’ and to know that in some small way I helped to get them there. When you help someone in need, there is no better feeling.”

Chris Wright, RN, BSN - Assistant Nurse Manager - St. Luke's Urgent Care Center Chesterfield 
“I became a nurse because I love to help others and make a difference in their lives, even if it is a small one. One of the best things about being a nurse is when I can comfort someone when they are sad, scared or hurt, or educate patients about their illness/injury, help them find resources they need, or help them towards healing. St. Luke’s has always had a great reputation for nursing excellence and patient care. I joined St. Luke’s because I wanted to be able to contribute and be a part of that. I am proud to be at St. Luke’s.”

Erin Potts, RN — Division 7700 Oncology
“I became a nurse because I love helping people. I have always wanted to make a difference and help others. I chose St. Luke’s because my grandmother was a patient St. Luke’s Hospital and always received the best care. I love caring for my patients because I can a difference, no matter how little, in their life. I always strive for positivity in my nursing and my outlook in life. I love being a nurse.”

Darla Wertenberger, RN  Community Outreach
"St. Luke’s provided me with so many opportunities during my more than 47 years here, from staff nurse, to head nurse of the ICU, to director of Community Outreach. I always a found a reason to stay and never a reason to leave. It’s why I retired and still work PRN."

Karen Engle, RN  St. Luke's Urgent Care Center  Ellisville
“I graduated from St. Luke’s School of Nursing in 1984 and have continued to work for St. Luke’s my entire career. I actually starting as an employee in the gift shop at the old  St. Luke’s East, then worked as a technician, and following nursing school graduation, worked for six years on 6600, six years on 6700, and I’m currently at the Urgent Care Centers for a total of almost 38 years employed at St. Luke’s. I would not want to work anywhere else.”

Paula Brown, RN, BSN — Division 6500 Intensive Care Unit
“I chose St. Luke’s for its culture. I came from a local hospital that started out the size of  St. Luke’s, but went through mergers. With those mergers they lost culture. I felt culture here the minute I walked in and everyone talked and smiled in passing. I loved the engagement between the employees, the patients and families. That was the part I was missing in the big system hospital.  I found my home at St. Luke’s 21 years ago. It is a great place to work and I am able to feel proud of what I do as a nurse. I went into nursing management over 30 years ago to help nurses have a great place to care for patients and be able to feel proud delivering the best care possible.”