"Someone asked me about Nurses Week. Here is the best thing that I hear from Nurses Week. On Saturday, I was leaving the Cracker Barrel. A guy stopped me and asked, 'Were you a nurse at BSA about 20 years ago?' I said I was, and he said, 'You saved my life.' He said, 'You took care of me for seven straight days.' And I said, 'I'm sorry, I do not remember you.' People look different, when they are healthy. He told me what happened. I immediately knew the situation, and he said, 'I knew that someday I would see you.' So for me, that is what it is about ... that is what I want. That is why I went into it, for stuff like that, to make a difference in someone's life."
Ronda Crow has been a registered nurse for 28 years. She is the Chief Nursing Officer of Moore County Hospital District. Seventy nurses, either directly or indirectly, answer to her. A graduate of West Texas State University, she originally came to Dumas as the director of the emergency room after stints at BSA and Northwest Texas Hospital in Amarillo. She started as a critical care nurse and moved into management. She spent 15 years as a nurse in the Navy and Army reserves. Her mother and aunt were nurses. Her brother is a nurse now.
"It is mentally challenging; it is physically challenging; it is emotionally challenging. There are days when you have got to be strong for the family or the patient, knowing that the outcome is not going to be good. You have to be truthful; you have to be supportive. Then you are physically tired. Your legs are killing you; your bladder is killing you. It is not easy. To me, it is the only profession that I want to do," said Crow. "I believe nursing is a calling, like a ministry. It is not easy to go to nursing school. It is not easy to get into nursing school. You have got to truly want to do it, to put that commitment in," she continued.
In the course of her work, Crow often has contact with students thinking about becoming a nurse. "I ask them 'Why do you want to go into it?' If you are truly called to it, pursue it. If you are unhappy in nursing, don't do it, because it shows to your patients. A lot of them have a story, something that touched them and made them want to take that career path."
Crow says she has been lucky working in Dumas. MCHD does not suffer from the shortage of nurses that plagues many rural hospitals across the nation. "Rural hospitals struggle," said Crow. "We are lucky; we have few vacancies. We had some nurses who were driving to Amarillo, who now work here, because our staffing ratios (number of patients per nurse) are better than they are in Amarillo, and the compensation is as good, if not better."
The nurses Crow oversees work in a variety of settings: emergency room, labor and delivery, operating room, medical/surgical, nursing home, home health hospice, and clinics. Nurses in smaller hospitals have to work where they are needed; there is not the degree of specialization in a small hospital that is possible in a large hospital. "You have to do it all," said Crow. But there are advantages to working in a small hospital. "Everybody knows everybody. They are taking care of their neighbors when they are here, so people stay … we have a stable group."
In an effort to maintain a supply of nurses into the future, MCHD has joined with Amarillo College, Frank Phillips Jr. College, and several other towns across the Panhandle to form the Rural Nursing Education Consortium. When the consortium is up and running later this year, Dumas students will be able to complete their classroom and clinical nursing education in Dumas. They will no longer have to finish their work in Amarillo. "If you educate them and grow the ones that are here, then you always make sure that you have somebody." Crow says she works closely with Amarillo College. One of her nurses teaches at the college, and another one soon will.
Crow has seen a lot of change in health care over the years. Though she does not miss the starched, white uniforms of the past or the practice of nurses standing when doctors entered the room, there is one current trend in health care she is not crazy about. "One trend that I think is that we are focusing so much on this (pointing to computers on her desk) that we have lost that art of human touch, the backrubs at night, that sort of thing."
Crow is obviously proud of her career and chosen profession. Her only regret, she says, is the time missed from family activities and holidays. "All in all, there are tradeoffs you have to make." Nevertheless, "I believe nursing is a very rewarding career."