Traveling Scrub Tech: for Jody Still, a 15-year career in health care all began with M.A.S.H.
The RNST System Administrator for Surgical Information Systems at Clark Memorial Hospital in Jeffersonville, Ind., he grew up watching the antics of Hawkeye Pierce with his dad and thought, “I’m going to be a surgeon.” Still spent his senior year in high school working towards his CNA.
But after listening to the complaints of a pair of orthopedists who spent more than a few late nights in med-surg, Still started to wonder if the gig was really the right fit for him.
“Listening to them complain about the hours and how much insurance companies were interfering…I wanted to be able to take care of people but I didn’t want someone dictating how I could do it,” he says.
“As a nurse I have a bit of flexibility to take care of people, but it’s not quite what the insurance companies are doing to physicians.”
And then Still was almost talked out of nursing altogether. He chalks it up to being an easily influenced 19-year-old, but in retrospect, Still notes that it was the first time he’d run into the burnout that, he would come to recognize, affects so many veterans of the health care profession. At the time, he was working in the recovery room as a short-term patient transporter; however, after a few chats, he changed his major to computer science.
“I was kind of eying some IT jobs in data systems,” he says.
Yet when there was an opportunity to try his hand as a scrub technician, Still knew it was time to detour back around to his original plan. He came to find that he actually enjoyed being an OR scrub tech, and having that skill set has made him that much more valuable in the field.
The problem really wasn’t that Still didn’t like working in health care. The problem was that he’d nearly allowed someone else to talk him out of it.
Now, at 32, he’s been in the field for 15 years, nearly all of them spent at Clark Memorial Hospital. Currently halfway through a travel assignment, Still is also discovering that the more he encounters in the nursing profession, the more there is to learn about how much attitude affects performance.
“Sadly I’ve seen a lot of people get into it for the wrong reasons,” he says – “for the money or the job security, where you can tell they just lack that one-on-one capability to be compassionate with somebody. They get there,
they do their job, clock in, clock out, write their stuff in and they’re done.
“I’ve found myself holding a patient’s hand while they’re falling asleep and they’re bawling their eyes out,” Still said. “I know several coworkers who would never do that.”
Whether it’s a byproduct of the economic recession that has struck America or the commercialized view the public has of nursing from television and other forms of entertainment, Still cringes when he tells someone that he’s a nurse, and “almost the first thing out of [his or her] mouth is, ‘Well you don’t have to worry about not having a job, do you?’” It stings even more, he says, when he sees that kind of attitude on display around patients.
“I always wanted to take care of people,” Still says. “I feel good about myself knowing that I’ve made a difference in someone else’s life for the day. And I think some people are never in it for that reason; there’s always a small group of people who complain.
“I can’t tell you how many times someone has complained about the case they’re assigned,” he says. “You’re there to take care of that person.”
Still describes “a big change in the way of life at Clark” when the facility acquired a new CEO about 10 years ago. Different leadership at the facility changed the culture of the environment to one in which management began to model caregiver behavior by treating staff with the same compassion it expected to be displayed to patients.
All of a sudden, he said, the facility became “concerned more not only with patient satisfaction but team satisfaction.” Incentives from morale-boosting cookouts to individual rewards began to make it more fun to work at the hospital, and things began to improve.
“It’s strange because we’ve had several management changes over years, and when you see the bad seeds weeded out, the environment changes,” Still said. “But then it always ends up happening again. Someone comes along and they may be going through personal changes, and it happens again.”
The trick, Still has discovered, is to find a way to look at the job with fresh eyes. In the end, he says, nursing is a customer service profession. Although it’s not like working in a department store, the philosophy is the same as far as the impact on business.
“Any field that deals with having to have that customer, if you’ve got people who are not in it for the right reason, you will nursing is a customer service profession. Although it’s not like working in a department store, the philosophy is the same as far as the impact on business.
not succeed,” he says. “An entire emergency room full of burnt-out nurses is going to get you a real reputation around town, and people are going to start judging your emergency room.”
So for his own emotional health as much as for the opportunity to learn more about the profession, Still took a 10-week travel assignment that sent him to St. Vincent’s hospital in Indianapolis, and in five weeks, he says it’s made him appreciate “everything I’ve grown up around.”
“I felt like I was walking away from family when I left like I did. But coming to this new place – the way the entire department is run, it’s so different.
“It took a little while for people to start opening up,” he says. “I felt like I was the outcast because I was the traveler. It kind of makes you feel like you’re the black sheep, but I don’t regret it.
Several times Still’s been assigned to the trauma phone at St. Vincent’s and seen several cases come through that he otherwise would never have seen. He says the change has given him a new perspective as well as a deeper appreciation for his normal routine – and the feeling is mutual.
Back at Clark, Still played a behind-the-scenes role in maintaining the surgical information system. He’s performing some remote maintenance while he’s away. “A lot of people say they were uncertain of how much I did until I was actually gone,” he says.
“I decided just to step out and learn some new things,” he says.
And if it keeps him fresh, it will prolong his career as well, Still says.