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Driven by Compassion, Gillette Nurse Leads by Example for 40 Years

“I think that’s why you stay at Gillette—because you care. Just the mission of Gillette, how could you not believe in it? My colleagues and I, we’re passionate about taking care of kids. You can have an awful day but as long as you’re working with good people—we all pitch in and help. That’s how we’ve always operated over here.” 

- Becky Hamilton, RN, Orthopedics/Surgical Unit

Becky Hamilton can’t help but get a bit emotional as she prepares to hang up her scrubs after 40 years as a Gillette Children’s  nurse. She’ll freely tell you that when you devote so much of your life to an organization, your colleagues become like family. This goes for your patients as well.

This week Becky walked off her unit one last time and embarked on the new adventure of retirement. But you need only to talk with Becky’s fellow nurses to learn that she hasn’t really left at all. Her legacy—one of kind, compassionate leadership, and of genuine care for her colleagues—has irrevocably left its mark.      

Becky hard at work

Small Town Beginnings

Growing up in rural Iowa as a self-described farm girl, Becky Hamilton didn’t always see herself as a nurse.

“When I got done with high school I needed to go some direction. I didn’t want to be a secretary and I didn’t want to be a teacher, so I decided, ‘What about nursing?’” Becky says.

She joined the Navy fresh out of nursing school in 1972. A good friend had signed up, and Becky joined with the guarantee they’d be stationed together in San Diego. After four years in San Diego, fate brought her back to her roots.

“I met some gals from Minnesota who’d packed everything they owned into a Volkswagen and moved to California for a year. A year was enough for them, and I was ready for a change; ready to head back to the Midwest. They talked me into moving with them,” Becky remembers.

Finding a Niche

Pediatrics was always her first love, so when Becky arrived in Minnesota she didn’t waste time in applying for nursing positions at three local children’s hospitals. Gillette was the first to offer her a position. The year was 1977, just three months before the hospital moved from its former location, on the shore of Lake Phalen, to its current location at 200 University Avenue in St. Paul.

Suffice it to say, Becky flourished at Gillette. She provided bedside care to kids recovering from all kinds of surgeries for 15 years until 1992, when an opportunity to lead presented itself. She calls the move to becoming a charge nurse a tough decision, as it would mean less time at the bedside with her patients.

A Leader is “Something I Became” 

“I thought about it for a weekend and decided I would do it,” Becky says of taking the charge nurse position, which she held until her retirement earlier this week. “As I became a leader—and I don’t always necessarily think of myself that way—I was given the opportunity to watch my peers grow over the years, and it’s been life changing.”

Becky calls it “phenomenal,” for example, to watch a young nurse, who was initially worried about being at the bedside, grow confident in their ability to care for a medically complex child. And she’s proud that nurses from her unit are called upon as a trusted resource.

“When Gillette started its own post-surgery recovery bay, where did they pull nurses from? Orth/Surg. When our Telehealth service went live, where did they pull nurses from? Ortho/Surg. I’m proud that our knowledge base has been valuable for everybody.”

As a leader on her unit, Becky always kept words of guidance from a Gillette mentor in the back of her mind: to lead by example. “People look up to me. The way I react is gonna be the way everyone else reacts,” she says.

Four Decades of Change for the Better

In her 40 years at Gillette, Becky saw four different iterations of the hospital’s logo as well as a name change—from Gillette Children’s Hospital to its current name, Gillette Children’s. Looking back, she says other, far more important changes are the ones that have transformed her patients’ care, comfort and safety.

“In the 1970s kids had IVs and that was it. There were no monitors, no IV pumps; there weren’t any of those things. Sometimes we get frustrated with our bells, buzzers and beepers, but it’s made things so much safer.”

Becky adds that pain management techniques and surgical innovations have improved the patient experience and dramatically shortened the length of stay for her patients. Forty years ago, she says, patients would stay in bed upwards of three weeks after a spinal fusion surgery.

“Now, they’re on their feet the very next day and home in five days or less. The technology we have today has changed things for the better.”

“You Can Really Make a Difference”

Nurses on the Orthopedics/Surgical Unit see a wide variety of patients recovering from all manner of surgeries. “You can’t help but get to know them,” Becky says. “You get invested in their progress.” 

That’s certainly the case for kids like Chuck Schultz, who spend six to eight weeks on the unit undergoing halo traction before a spine fusion surgery.

“You see their spine going from a severe curve to relatively straight. It’s absolutely life-changing for all of them,” Becky says. When you see that, you know you can really make a difference.”   

Just as rewarding is seeing patients’ progress a few months after major surgery.

“They’ll come back a month or two later for an appointment, and stop by the unit to say ‘hi.’  Sometimes you hardly recognize it’s the same kid. That’s always fabulous—knowing that, oh, it was so worth it!” Becky shares.

What’s in a Legacy?

Becky is coming off the board

As Becky reflects on 40 years and what she hopes to leave behind, her words come easily in conveying what she values most: relationships and personal connections.

“I want people to remember me for my kindness; for my interest in them as well as the kids we serve. And as a leader—someone people can come to. I have a true interest in every co-worker as a person, not just in their skills as a nurse.”

Besides her colleagues, whom she intends to keep in touch with, there’s one more way Becky’s connection to Gillette will remain strong. “I’ve always donated to employee giving. I think I‘ll continue to financially support Gillette, even though I won’t be an employee,” she shares.

“People like me spend their entire careers here because they truly believe in the mission and want it to continue,” Becky adds. “In another 40 years, I hope we still have the compassion and capacity to take care of the children and adults who need us.”