By Matt Skoufalos
When a 19-year-old Beth Devine completed the LPN program at Clark County Community College in southern Nevada, she entered the nursing field, “very young and naïve, and not exactly sure what I was doing.” Undaunted, the Reno native dove right in.
That was 40 years ago. In the time since, she’s traveled extensively – throughout the Pacific Northwest, across the United States, and around the world. She’s worked with health care professionals in a variety of settings, from the nursing home to the NICU; seen technology throughout her career evolve from the earliest microwaves to the most advanced diagnostic imaging.
Devine developed a depth of experience in whatever assignment she chose by cultivating learning wherever she went, and from whomever she was with.
“I still have a lot of gratitude that life, circumstances, and maybe some angels along the way have kept me in this profession,” she said. “I still receive a lot of personal satisfaction from it. There’s so much lateral movement, so many different types of nursing that people can experience … I learned that there are so many ways of doing the same thing.”
In high school, Devine had been an assistant at a nursing home; her first assignment as a 19-year-old working nurse was in a post-open-heart unit in Las Vegas. She spent the next five years in the critical care unit before migrating to the assignment in which she’d spend the next 30 years: the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
“NICU nursing is a fabulous place to be,” Devine said. “You are at the beginning of the life cycle. You are touching people at some of their most critical and vulnerable times.”
The critical and vulnerable aren’t only the premature, low-birthweight and medically fragile babies entrusted to their professional caregivers. They’re also the anxious and exhausted parents who lend the nurses their faith. Devine feels deeply the responsibility of caring for those tiny patients who “have the most distinct personalities,” and in some cases, seeing them grow up.
“There’s always going to be those really special babies that parents and nurses connect, and they’re going to stay in contact for a lifetime because the connection is so intense,” she said. “Parents are trusting you with the valuable commodity that is their children.”
Devine had significant autonomy in the NICU, borne of the ownership she took of her role (“Those were my babies for that shift,” she recalled); comparatively, her next assignment, the operating room, was “much more a team sport.
“You work with surgeons, you work with anesthesia,” Devine said, “and because it is such a team-dynamic environment, I have an equal share at the table when it comes to finding our care for the patient. I am using my critical thinking skills to plan out the best care.”
As she solidified her understanding of her role in the OR, Devine still “kept her finger in the pie” a few days a month in the NICU… for the next 10 years.
“It was really hard for me to wean off,” she said.
Devine had made the switch as much to take on a new specialty as for a lifestyle change. She had already completed a few travel nursing assignments, and had enjoyed them, but after years in 24-hour-care units, she missed having evenings and weekends to herself. In 2003, she fell into an OR training program, and had the opportunity to bring her caregiving experience into a new assignment.
“One of the things I find as an OR nurse is that we have to really develop our communication skills,” she said. “We touch people at that really critical point where they’re just about to lose that physical contact with their loved ones, or just about to go to sleep. Sometimes there are times where we are the last face that patient sees before they go under anesthesia.”
“We don’t have the luxury of getting to know patients over a day, but it’s still very important that we connect with them, and let them know they’re in good hands,” Devine said.
She carried that same outlook with her in 2011, when Devine went to work for the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care System. By now an RN with grown children, including the four she’d raised when her sister passed away, Devine was looking for a new opportunity. The opportunity to put her skills to use in service of veterans has connected her with military families of all stages of life. Within six years of starting, she’d also completed bachelor’s and master’s degree nursing programs through Western Governor’s University.
“I really made the conscious decision to go to work for the VA,” Devine said. “Both of my parents were veterans, and both of my parents received their end-of-life care through the VA. I’m very honored to work there and take care of veterans.”
“When you touch these patients as an OR nurse, there is a connection,” she said. Families of patients have spotted her in public months after they’d met Devine in the hospital, and stopped her just to thank her for bringing their loved one through a procedure safely. The thought that she is caring and positive to people in need still inspires Devine; it’s one of the virtues she most tries to instill in young nurses.
“My passion is to make sure that these nurses coming out really understand the importance of therapeutic touch,” Devine said. “I have this fabulous opportunity to take all these years of medical experience to convey this confidence. “
It’s a confidence honed over years and distance and connection with people in a number of personal and professional settings. And the potential variability of it keeps Devine coming back every day, grateful for the moments that have brought her there, informed by the perspectives of those she’s met along the way.
“It really makes you have gratitude for your own life,” she said. “To live with gratitude is a blessing that I try to keep.”