The first thing you need to know about Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare nursing supervisor, Tammy Sinkfield-Morey is—she’s a hugger. A serious hugger.
Take a walk with her down the hallways of Gillette and you’re lucky to go two feet before she stops and hugs a nurse, staff member, patient family member or child.
These days the warm embraces are often accompanied by messages of congratulations. Sinkfield-Morey, RN, recently won the prestigious March of Dimes Minnesota Distinguished Nurse of the Year Award. It’s awarded to an experienced nurse to recognize professional and personal development and community service.
“It’s just the top jewel in a nursing career! I’m so honored, humbled and thrilled to win this award,” Sinkfield-Morey exclaims. “To me, it highlights the excellent nursing practice we have at Gillette and, for me personally, it lifts the importance of story.”
Sinkfield-Morey is committed to what she calls “connecting across the cultures with story.” In fact, she wrote her dissertation on the topic as part of her Doctor of Nursing program at Augsburg University in Minneapolis. Her dissertation explores how nurses use storytelling as they interact with patient families to build relationships, promote healing and enhance patient satisfaction.
“When nurses take the time to share stories and listen to the stories of patients and families it lifts up both parties and helps build respect,” Sinkfield-Morey says.
During her nearly 22 years at Gillette Sinkfield-Morey has accumulated hundreds stories and earned the respect of many. She came to Gillette in 1996 as a student nurse doing a clinical rotation in the rehab unit.
“When I was a student, I just connected with the family I was caring for and they wrote a wonderful letter to the Gillette nursing manager at the time,” Sinkfield-Morey recalls. “This family thought I was a Gillette employee and wanted the manager to recognize my good work.” The manager was impressed and offered her a job upon graduation.
Proud to be a Pioneer and Grateful for Support
Sinkfield-Morey says she’s proud to be the first nurse of color hired at Gillette. “For the first five years of my career at Gillette there were no other black nurses,” Sinkfield-Morey says. “I’m proud of how Gillette is committed to and has embraced diversity over the years.”
She says she’s always felt supported at Gillette and appreciates how the other nurses and managers at Gillette have stood by her when some patients were not respectful.
“Years ago we had a patient family member who said the N-word when I walked by. It was upsetting but I tried to not let her get to me. A coworker saw this interaction and bought me a special card—it has bears on it. I still have it and I cry every time I think about it. The card said, ‘For every one negative thing you hear about yourself you should hear 10 positive things.’ My fellow nurses each wrote 10 positive things about me. It meant a lot. It encouraged me and lifted me up. That’s one of the things that makes working here so special,” Sinkfield-Morey says.
Health challenges—a Lupus diagnosis and four joint replacements—meant Sinkfield-Morey could no longer do what she calls “bedside nursing.” She’s been a nursing supervisor for the past 10 years and says she loves her role at the hospital.
“The beauty of my job is that it’s always evolving and becoming. I am the ‘go to’ person when the daytime managers are gone in the evening. I get to support nursing services, patient care needs and provide any other resources. It’s the full gamut,” Sinkfield-Morey says. “In my job I get to interact with patients and with nurses. I love helping the staff become their best selves.”
Rooted in the Love of her Grandmother
Sinkfield-Morey feels people can be their best selves when they feel respected and grounded. “That’s where the hugs come in I guess,” she confesses. “The hugs are rooted in my childhood. I had a grandmother who loved me but was often dealing with a serious mental illness. The hugs helped to ground her and comfort her,” Sinkfield-Morey says. “That’s what I try to do every day at Gillette—to ground and comfort people."