The best gratification in receiving a Distinguished Service Award, according to Wendy Waters-Connell, is being able to recognize the people who helped her get to where she is, the Executive Director of Quaker Heights Care Community, a 110-year-old institution in Waynesville, Ohio. “I don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything great,” she said. “I’ve just worked hard, but I’ve had wonderful people who have helped me get to where I am.”
Waters-Connell credits New Miami High School English teacher Stephanie Darbyshire as one of the first educators to urge her toward success by steering her toward the Miami University Regional Campuses.
“I was going to be a high-risk student, coming from a socio-economically depressed area, not having a lot of life experience. She was worried that I might not make it through so she gave me a shepherd,” she said. Lynn Darbyshire, the kind teacher’s husband, was a dean at Miami Middletown. Lynn Darbyshire helped connect me with students with similar life experience, which helped make me feel not alone.” Mr. Darbyshire encouraged her to participate in student government and other activities, such as singing in drama club musicals. “I acted like a normal college student rather someone with demographic challenges,” Waters-Connell said.
It would turn out to be a Fort Hamilton Nursing Scholarship enabled her to enroll in college, but she did not yet know where the interest in nursing would take her. “All freshman nursing students at that time either wanted to help take care of babies or deliver them,” she said. “What I didn’t realize as a freshman or a sophomore is that there were experiences earlier in my life with grandparents that helped shape my affinity for elders.” After getting her associate degree on the Middletown campus, Waters-Connell switched to the Hamilton campus to get her bachelor degree while working part-time in the ICU at Middletown Hospital.
“The experience of elders in ICU is pretty intense, and it changed my perspective again,” she said. “It was supposed to be just a job while I graduated from college so I could work with kids, but by the time I finished my bachelors program I knew I was going to work with elders.”
There was a point, however, during her sophomore year that she struggled and began to have doubts if this was her calling after all. She became nervous, anxious and disorganized. “I was really struggling in the clinical rotations,” she said. “I was OK with the book work, but when I got to the floor I just couldn’t hold it together.” Dr. Jean Dockery the instructor for her next rotation, and Waters-Connell expressed her doubts and asked for an honest assessment. “If you really feel I’m not going to be good at this, please tell me so that I can refocus and do something else.” “We don’t want to graduate anyone who isn’t going to be a good nurse, so if you don’t perform, I’ll let you know,” Dr. Dockery said. While working at Middletown Hospital, Dockery assigned Waters-Connell a challenging patient, a large, intimidating truck driver who had lost his dominant arm in a traumatic amputation while working on his truck. “By the end of that week I had him laughing with me and saying that it’s going to be OK,” she said. “The two of us as patient and nurse almost nursed each other.”
By giving her that assignment, Waters-Connell believes, Dr. Dockery put her back on track by challenging her. “She saved my career before I even graduated because I wanted to cut and run, but she wouldn’t have any of it.”
Another Miami professor who had a profound impact on Waters-Connell’s career and education both was Dr. Eugenia Mills, who was chair of the nursing department at Hamilton during her two years on that campus.
After an early career that included being the first director of nursing for Berkeley Square in Hamilton, Waters-Connell became the executive director at Quaker Heights. At the annual meeting when she was introduced to the full corporate board she saw Dr. Mills sitting in the audience. A Quaker since birth, Dr. Mills was involved with Quaker Heights because it was the first nursing home in Ohio that accepted an AIDS patient.
“It made complete sense to me,” Waters-Connell said. “The way she taught and the way she spoke, was about being a friend, not necessarily about nursing professorship. Her spirituality transferred to students in the way that she taught. “She got more involved because I was there and became president of the board. She is going to retire in May and I’m heartbroken and grief-stricken because she has been a professor for life for me, watching all these changes at Quaker Heights and supporting me, just like she did when I was a student.”
Waters-Connell believes that the education she received on the Regional Campuses is largely responsible for her success as it prepared her as an individual. “I was not a number, not one of a mass of nursing students,” she said. “They knew my name, they knew my issues, and they got me through school and did a good enough job that I’ve done OK in life and I’m very grateful to these campuses for what they provided me.”
By Richard O. Jones, Hamilton, Ohio
Our time was intense this morning. I am grateful for Eugenia’s recognition regarding the Miami Award. However, I want to share the words below, which I prepared for the Miami event. It is a rare moment when individuals get to thank the teachers who made differences in their lives. The “Mission Moment” from last month, written by Leanne Montgomery, helped shaped my comments for two Miami nursing faculty: Dr. Jean Dockery and Dr. Eugenia Mills. You will recognize some of the story below from Leanne’s summary.
I thought you should have this wider story to reflect upon. The words below will help you understand why I am reluctant to give up on individuals who are striving to achieve (like Nancy Rice), even when the mountain is very high. Mandy Yauger, Woodie Davis Jr., and Kathy Frontz are other examples of a philosophy to “pay it forward”. Let us work with Sydney McBride, the Earlham Fellow, to do the same… promoting the best that is within us by Seeking the Light.
I would like to thank the Miami University Nursing Alumni Association for this award. I stand here before you for many reasons, Chris Connell – my husband- is a critical factor and I thank him for his unyielding support and his passion for the regional campuses- but there are two other reasons I wish to acknowledge, specifically.
The first reason is Dr. Jean Dockery.
I witnessed Dr. Jean Dockery minister to a young student at the Middletown campus who did not think she had the “right stuff” to be a registered nurse. Coming off a really bad clinical rotation in the fall of 1984, the student contemplated dropping out of Miami’s program. Dr. Dockery, knowing the student needed a reality check, assigned a burly, red headed, truck driver. This patient had experienced a traumatic amputation at the shoulder of his dominant arm 36 hours earlier while working on his truck; he was in pain, suffered from emotional shock, and wrestled with the need to be in control of the future for his young family. His dressing changes were delicate dances of pain control, Kerlix, and validation.
Dr. Dockery also asked the student to give a presentation on the Risks of Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation in Trauma cases. The student rose to the request and did fine – for Dr. Dockery knew that what the student needed most of all was an opportunity to prove that she could be a good nurse, it was an exercise of validation for the student even more than the patient she cared for during this rotation. The student did not drop out of nursing and went on to the BSN program. Of course you know this student was me. I am grateful for the grace bestowed by Dr. Jean Dockery. She saved my nursing career before it began.
The second is Dr. Eugenia Mills.
I was first introduced to Dr. Mills in the course for Public Health on the Hamilton campus. Her passion for equality in healthcare transferred to her students in the classroom. Who could have predicted nearly 12 years after my graduation that we would meet again? This time in a different light. When I accepted the position of CEO for Quaker Heights, I was invited to attend the Annual meeting to be introduced to all board members. It was 1999.
I was astonished to see Dr. Eugenia Mills sitting in the audience. I asked her how she came to be a board member, and Eugenia shared that she has been “a convinced Quaker since birth” and that she was “very committed to serve the organization that had taken one of the first AIDS patients into their nursing home in the state of Ohio.” Suddenly everything I remembered about Dr. Mills’ teaching style made complete sense. The way she challenged students with queries was more than a strategy, it was a part of her spiritual foundation.
Seeing Dr. Mills again at this meeting was a rare moment of purity in life. I was looking into the eyes of a teacher and hoping that she would see some of her life’s work in front of her. I am grateful for the now 15 years Dr. Eugenia Mills has provided additional mentoring and support to me during my years at Quaker Heights. She has been the reason my nursing degree from Miami has lifted me higher than I expected in my career.
Here is the message behind these two acknowledgments:
Nursing Students from Miami University are uniquely educated to make the world a better place, because they are taught to heal themselves as much as others. This is the great legacy of Miami University Nursing faculty – this is why I stand here today – thank you again for this cherished moment. Thank you Dr. Dockery, Thank you Dr. Mills.