Nancy Pokorny recalls her mom lobbying her on a career choice.
A 20-year employee of the Albert Einstein Medical Center admissions office, Peg Duffy asked her daughter, “Why don’t you go into nursing?”
Pokorny started as a candy striper, wearing one of those pink and white pinafores as a Little Flower High School student. She was assigned to the maternity ward.
After considering other career paths, she ultimately studied nursing at Gwynedd-Mercy College.
Pokorny, a Fox Chase resident, has become an Einstein lifer, working there in numerous capacities for 42 years.
Younger sister Peggy Lawson, of East Torresdale, has been an Einstein nurse for 20 years. She’s assigned to the emergency department.
“I wanted to follow in Nancy’s footsteps,” she said.
Dana DiSante, their 25-year-old niece, works in the ER. The Morrell Park resident has been at Einstein for six years.
Pokorny, Lawson and DiSante were among the 1,800-plus nurses at Einstein and estimated 3.1 million across the country recognized recently during National Nurses Week.
They seem to love their work and appreciate thank yous for everything from getting a patient a pillow to saving a life.
“It’s a very demanding job, but it’s very rewarding,” Lawson said.
In her years at Einstein, at 5501 Old York Road, Pokorny has worked in the ER, the medical/surgical unit and psychiatry. She’s been interim director of Belmont Behavioral Health, part of the Einstein network. Today, she is a nursing career specialist.
Back in 2000, when she was a nurse recruiter at Einstein, she had a letter to the editor published in the Times, titled “Three cheers for our nurses.”
Pokorny said the themes of that letter carry over to today. She describes nurses as caregivers, counselors and patient advocates.
Nurses have special bonds with patients, she said, easing their pain, suffering, confusion, anguish and frustration. They are with people at birth, through childhood and adulthood and, most frequently, in their senior years.
A recent Gallup telephone survey asked Americans, “Please tell me how you would rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in these different fields — very high, high, average, low, or very low?”
A list of 22 professions was provided. Nurses were ranked “high” or “very high” among 85 percent of respondents. They’ve led the survey for 11 consecutive years, losing to firefighters after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Car salespeople fared worst in the survey, below only members of Congress.
“We really feel like we make a difference,” Lawson said.
Nurses don’t wear the traditional dress, apron and cap anymore — scrubs are more comfortable and easier to wash — but have always played a role in life and death decisions. They don’t merely empty bed pans and stick a thermometer under a patient’s tongue.
“We have a lot of responsibility,” DiSante said.
As an Archbishop Ryan student, DiSante volunteered at Einstein in the ER and the neonatal intensive care unit.
“I liked the ER because it was fast-paced. Everybody worked as a team,” she said.
DiSante recently earned a master’s in family nurse practitioner from La Salle, and she believes all her experience at a busy hospital such as Einstein made the coursework easier.
“We’re always learning,” she said.
Lawson was drawn to the nursing profession when she was a candy striper at Einstein as a St. Hubert student.
“I saw nurses form relationships and bonds with patients and their families,” she recalled. “It wasn’t just tasks. It was bridging gaps and a lot of education.”
Nurses see it all in the ER, Lawson explained. She’s seen wounded police officers and the men who have shot them in adjacent operating rooms. She’s also seen victims of child abuse.
“You have to be prepared for the unexpected,” she said. “Every day is something new. It’s busy. There is a lot of trauma here.”
In her role as a nursing career specialist, Pokorny thinks she has an easy pitch to prospective employees.
“There are so many different specialties in nursing,” she said. “There are a variety of shifts, and every single day is different. You can continue your education and learn all you can.”
Pokorny encourages nurses to read and research so they can develop best practices and improved work flow.
Nurses, she said, must be nurturing and non-judgmental. They see patients move from the ER to the OR to the ICU.
There are happy days and sad days. Nurses put their arms around patients and family members to celebrate the birth of a baby or to console them after the loss of a limb or a life snuffed out by gunshots.
“We see lives changed forever,” Pokorny said.
Pokorny, Lawson and DiSante entered the nursing field in three different eras, but the basics of the job have stayed the same. They and their colleagues want the best for patients in their care.
“We have great teamwork,” Lawson said. “There’s a family feeling here at Einstein.” ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org