Barbara Smith didn’t always know she wanted to be a nurse. However, health care was something she was surrounded by her whole life.
“My mom and aunt were both nurses,” Barbara shares.
In fact, it was Barbara’s mother who encouraged her to go to nursing school. Upon successfully completing her education, Barbara officially began her career in nursing. It was not long before she fell in love with the challenging career she had chosen. Barbara’s first job was at a large, 900-bed hospital that had multiple intensive care units (ICUs).
Barbara eventually moved to Richmond, VA and began working at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital. She was asked to serve on the hospital’s very first preceptor committee. Barbara has always been passionate about educating others, eventually serving as chairperson for the St. Mary’s Hospital Shared Governance Education Council.
“It was so much fun to collaborate with hospital leadership and talk about how we could make the program as good as it could possibly be for our newer nurses,” she shares.
Today, Barbara plays a crucial role on the cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU) at St. Mary’s. The unit’s other nurses refer to her as “mama bear” because they can always count on her to precept, mentor and educate them.
One of Barbara’s favorite things about her unit is she gets to spend more time with her patients compared to if she worked on other units.
“I love getting to know people and caring for them. I absolutely love being able to teach patients and their families what they need to know so they don’t have to come back and get open-heart surgery or something again,” Barbara explains.
While it can be traumatic to watch people come on to her unit at their worst, Barbara shares that nothing makes her happier than watching her patients recover, go home and live a normal life again with their loved ones.
Barbara fondly remembers a time when she cared for a mother of several young children, including a newborn who was only two weeks old at the time. The patient received a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) nine and a half years ago. Recently this patient was blessed with a heart transplant at another hospital. Thanks to the compassionate care and service she received during her time at St. Mary’s, the patient survived and lived to watch her young children grow up.
Barbara still gets Christmas cards from the family of another woman who had major bypass surgery and a valve replacement. During this patient’s time on Barbara’s unit, she almost died three times because of the severity of her illness. With the help of Barbara and the other nurses on the unit, she was able to leave the hospital and recover at her daughter’s house over the next year. Eventually, she moved out of her daughter’s house and was able to go back to work part-time.
“It is truly an honor to serve patients and help them get back to the things they enjoy,” Barbara says.
And she is not alone. Barbara says all the other nurses on her unit share an enormous passion for taking care of cardiac surgery and vascular patients.
“We put our heart and soul into the care of our patients every day. We truly love and care for each person that comes through this unit.”
Looking back on a long, service-oriented career, Barbara has one piece of advice to offer newer nurses today.
She shares, “it is so important to have an outlet, whether you work in the ICU, which is particularly challenging, or any other unit. Nursing is not an easy job – you have to be physically and mentally able to do it. Early on in my career, I started teaching ballroom dancing in my free time, but I also relied on family and exercise.”
We’re grateful for all our talented and dedicated nurses like Barbara at Bon Secours, where nurses mean the world.
Read more stories that celebrate our nurses.