News & Events

Multigenerational nurses – it’s a family affair

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
September 2008 Edition

By Sharon Nery

Daughters at the bedside

Donna-Kelly Williams, left, with her daughter, Kelly Williams.

When Kelly Williams was a child and watched her mother prepare for work as an RN, she “was fascinated.”

“I never had a doubt in my mind as to what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be a nurse,” said Williams, whose mother Donna- Kelly Williams, vice-president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, has been a practicing RN for the past 31 years. “And although I know I will face many challenges as a nurse, my mom has supported me in my decision to follow in her footsteps—she has been a real role model.”

Presently in the nursing program at Middlesex Community College, Williams is looking forward to a career as an RN in either pediatrics or an ER setting, despite concerns about short staffing and adverse working conditions.

“I would not work in a hospital that was not represented by a union,” said the college freshman. “And honestly, I don’t believe I would encourage a child of mine to become a nurse unless safe staffing legislation is passed.”

It is the structure of the job, rather than the work itself, that sometimes negatively affects nurses—a structure that veteran nurse Donna Kelly-Williams is all too familiar with and one she hopes her daughter will be able to surmount by the time she is a practicing RN.

“The ability to be a good nurse is becoming more difficult,” said Donna Kelly-Williams, a pediatric clinical nurse at Cambridge Hospital, who is currently in a masters in nursing leadership and healthcare administration program. “Situations require more critical thinking; standards are being set by outside agencies; and there is constant technology that must be kept up with—and yet I am passionate about continuing in the field.”

While she has concerns that her daughter and other fledgling nurses will face unique challenges that include “too many patients to care for fully,” Donna Kelly-Williams is confident that her daughter will find the profession to be “a great privilege and a great responsibility, just as I do.”

“I’m proud that my daughter is taking this path,” she said. “To be in a position to help people at their most critical time of need is incredibly rewarding. And although there are many issues to overcome as a nurse today, I know Kelly will be one of many voices for positive change.”

Siblings follow mom’s example
In her first full year as a practicing nurse, Kari Locke is one of three in her immediate family to embrace the profession’s beckon.

“My mother and older sister are both RNs, so nursing is in my blood,” said Locke, who received her ASN from Atlantic Union College last year. “It’s true that I was influenced in my choice of career by having nurses in the house, but I have always thought like a nurse. Critical thinking is one of my strong points.”

That ability to evaluate and act quickly is presently serving Locke well in her work in the general surgery, transplant and telemetry unit at the UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester.

“The days are busy, some so busy that you feel you’re not fully caring for patients and don’t have the time to bond with them sufficiently,” said Locke, noting that the difference between caring for five or three patients at a time is “overwhelming versus just right.”

“When you have five it’s bad; four is manageable and three is optimum,” she said. “Staffing level numbers may work on paper, but when you have too many patients to care for at one time the paperwork doesn’t really tell the tale.”

Still, Locke said, she wouldn’t trade in her nurses’ credentials for any other profession. Donna-Kelly Williams, left, with her daugther, Kelly Williams.

“The variety of career opportunities is incredible,” she said, noting that she is presently working on her bachelor’s degree in psychology. “Nursing has so much to offer; I wouldn’t discourage my children from pursuing a career in this industry because you can go anywhere with a nursing degree.”

Kari Locke’s mother Judy began her career in the health care industry “when team nursing was the system of care on the floors” and she says that she more than encouraged Kari and her older daughter Kristin Safford to get their nursing degrees, knowing that careers as health care professionals would be fulfilling.

But she too shares some of Kelly-Williams’ worries.

“Safe staffing,” said Locke, “is something we absolutely must see implemented and maintained. Patients’ safety depends on it, as does the future of nursing.”

Her daughter Kari agrees. “I hope that one day soon I will go to work and be able to take care of my patients in the way they should be cared for.”

Pointing to the enormous load nurses carry today and its trickle-down effect on the health care industry’s future, Locke said she would like to see RNs in management, “especially at the highest levels of management,” speak to nurses individually and listen to what they have to say.

“Management really needs to know what these young nurses are dealing with day after day,” she said.

Safford says her work as an RN on the 4th floor (ortho/neuro/trauma) at UMass Medical Center “has changed tremendously in my 15 years here.”

While Safford unhesitatingly noted that the best aspect of her job is “I get to do what I love, which is making people feel better,” she pointed to days so hectic there is often no time to eat over the course of a 12-hour shift.

“The fact is, the busier you are, the more likely you are to make a mistake,” she said. “Literally, 10 people will ask you for things at the same time—the potential is there to miss something because you don’t have the time to perform the type of assessment you would have liked.”

Despite demanding days and the constant challenge to fill patients’ needs, Safford has already encouraged her own children to consider nursing as their profession.

Said Safford, “My ultimate hope for nurses is for them to have a strong voice in leading their practice; I hope that when we advocate for our patients that our concerns are heard and our observations and opinions about patient care are taken into consideration.”