5 Minutes with Nurse Nancy Waldhaus

The American Nursing Association has designated 2017 as the "Year of the Healthy Nurse." During National Nurses Week, May 6–12, we’re celebrating the theme of “Nursing: the Balance of Mind, Body, and Spirit” with five minutes with nurse Nancy Waldhaus, who was one of this year’s recipient of the Baltimore Magazine “Excellence in Nursing” Award.

Q: What was your path to being a nurse at Sheppard Pratt Health System?

A: I always wanted to be a nurse. I started out as a nurse in the oncology department of the Mayo Clinic, where most of my time was spent with terminal teenage patients. It was heartbreaking, and I started getting depressed. I decided to pursue a master’s degree in psychiatric nursing to learn how to deal with my own mental health so I could be a better nurse to these sick teens. After completing my master’s, I worked at the Menninger Clinic, then married an agricultural statistician whose work took us around the world. When we finally settled on the East Coast, I returned to Sheppard Pratt Health System, where I had worked for a few years between careers in North Dakota, Puerto Rico, and Minnesota.

Q: Tell us about your world travels.

A: So far, I’ve lived in or travelled to 55 countries and plan on visiting Cuba this summer. We lived in Pakistan in the 1980s during the height of the Cold War. While we lived there, I was responsible for training basic health workers and ensuring the health of American allies. Ultimately, my role was to provide quality patient care, and to do whatever had to be done to do so. Later, I was a travelling nurse in Puerto Rico.

Q: You’ve been a teacher throughout your entire nursing career; what lessons do you want to instill in nurses early in their careers?

A: My dream for every nurse is to remember that when a patient is ill, there is pain. And, to some degree, there is loneliness and, at times, a loss of hope. It is a nurse’s job to help the patient manage that pain with dignity, respect, and a sense of control. If a patient needs a lifeline, we instill hope. That is where nursing starts. It doesn’t start with a diagnosis; it starts within the context of every patient’s personal story. It’s their journey.

I was awarded Faculty of the Year Award at North Dakota State University in a year that I failed one student. I worked with that student, and he later became 2nd runner up to lead the National Student Nurses’ Association. I still have the article he published thanking me for the wake-up call of a failing grade. To me, that’s an extension of nursing; it should be about healing and touching lives in the most positive and best ways we can.

Q: You work in both the C.R.O.P. and C.W.I.C. programs at Sheppard Pratt; what’s the difference between the programs?

A: C.R.O.P. is our Crisis Response Outpatient Program. It is a program for people in crisis who are otherwise “stress normal,” meaning they are not in severe psychosis or in danger. Oftentimes patients in C.R.O.P. are experiencing an episode of anxiety or depression because of a life crisis: students during exam week, people with marital or employment problems, or teachers when a new set of standards is introduced. We work with each patient to find them the resources they need in the community. They don’t need to be admitted to the hospital, but they need help in the immediate future to navigate an episode of mental illness.

C.W.I.C. is our Crisis Walk-In Clinic. This is the preliminary intake center for people with psychosis, mania, or who are suicidal. As nurses, we guide an individual’s Sheppard Pratt journey starting at C.W.I.C., providing recommendations to the doctors and ensuring the person’s needs are met.

Q: Finally, what do you love most about your job?

A: I always wanted to be a nurse. I like Sheppard Pratt’s person focus. I’m always bothered when people say something is not in their job description, because our job is to help the patient so anything related to the patient’s care is in our job description. The Sheppard Pratt Health System is focused on excellent patient care. That’s what I love most: that my role is to provide quality patient care and that I have the means to do so to the best of my ability.