More than just a profession

Released: 05/06/16

For Ossian’s MarySender, Winneshiek Medical Center director of surgical and emergency services, a strong passion for her career and the ability to help the many people the works with on a daily basis have contributed to her 35-year career at the hospital. Like the millions of nurses around the country, Sender will proudly celebrate National Nurses Day on Friday. (Zakary Kriener photo)

By Zakary Kriener, Ossian Bee

“Nursing is an art; and if it is to be made an art, it requires as exclusive a devotion, as hard a preparation, as any painter’s or sculptor’s work” – Florence Nightingale.

There are nearly 3 million nurses in the United States who devote themselves in every way to their work. Mary Sender, the director of surgical and emergency services at Winneshiek Medical Center (WMC) in Decorah, can proudly say that she has devoted the past 35 years of her life to the profession.

“My mother is the one who really encouraged me to pursue a career in nursing,” said Sender, who grew up in Millville, Minn. “There were not nearly as many career options back then, but nursing seemed like a great path to pursue.”

Mary traveled south to Area One Vocational-Technical School in Calmar, which is now Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC), to receive her degree to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN).

“When I came to Iowa, I did not anticipate making it my home,” she continued. “I met my husband, Chuck, here and never looked back.”

Eventually planting their family’s roots in Ossian, Mary went on to begin her nursing career as an LPN at WMC.

“I went on to become a registered nurse after receiving my associate’s degree at Northeast Iowa Technical Institute (another previous name for NICC),” added Sender.

In her 35 years at the Winneshiek Medical Center, Mary has held many different positions, including over seven years as a night supervisor, the manager of surgery, and later, the head of same-day services, the emergency room, and ambulance services.

“I have enjoyed all of my roles in the nursing department, but moved around in search of more stable hours as we began our family,” explained Sender, who raised three children here in northeast Iowa. “I have always enjoyed the fast pace involved in working in surgery and the emergency room, though.”

Over the past several years, Sender stated that her role with the hospital has shifted to a less hands-on position in terms of being on the surgical floor. Her duties now focus on working in more of a leadership role, helping with overall coordination between the different nursing departments at WMC, which performed nearly 2,400 surgical procedures in 2015. Along with the number of surgeries performed at WMC, Sender heads departments that performed over 2,200 same-day service infusions, nearly 7,400 emergency room visits, over 2,700 urgent care visits, and 1,500 ambulance service calls.

“One of the most rewarding parts about a career in nursing is the interactions with my patients and fellow staff members,” she went on to say. “It is great to be able to make such a connection with people. As a nurse, you often get to work with people when they are experiencing both the happiest and the saddest times of their lives. Even though we sometimes have to work with people in hard times, it is rewarding to be able to know that you helped them through it.”

Mary added that helping patients when they are experiencing hardships is something that has helped shape her into the person she is today.

“There are several instances that I have experienced in my years of nursing that I will never be able to forget,” she explained. “It’s those bad experiences that shape you and can help prepare you for another similar instance in the future. You can learn from them not only to help other patients, but to help deal with situations in your personal life. Nursing really helps you grow as a person.”

As with anything else in today’s world, the nursing profession has experienced countless changes since Sender first stepped into the hospital.

“The changes in technology have been unbelievable since I first began in nursing,” shared Sender, who is constantly reading about new techniques, advancements, and safety procedures to help make sure WMC is offering the highest quality of care and service possible. “The technology and equipment upgrades have helped make healthcare much more efficient.”

Sender went on to say that as the technology changes, the role of nursing also changes.

“When I first started here, we would have approximately 60 patients in the hospital every night. Now, we have maybe 10 patients that are kept in the hospital because of the improvements in technology and care, which allows patients to go home earlier and recover in the comfort of their own environment,” she explained. “Because of this, much of what nurses do revolves around preparing and educating patients to be able to care for themselves at home, as opposed to monitoring them while they stay in the hospital.”

Among the things that Mary enjoys most about her nursing career in a small northeast Iowan community are the bonds that she has built with her co-workers and their families.

“I have been asked why I don’t move to a big city and work at a bigger hospital where I can make more money,” she said. “I tell them that I like it here too much. I like the bonds that I have built with people here. It makes me feel good to see someone that I hired grow into their profession and continue to expand their knowledge. It is like we are all a big family here at WMC.”

As National Nurses Day approaches (Friday, May 6), Sender and the nursing staff at WMC are excited to celebrate it and to give back to the community and people they serve. In addition to planning a service project that will benefit Helping Services for Northeast Iowa, they will participate in several fun giveaways and activities within the hospital.

“We do not like to spend too much time celebrating Nurses Day,” closed Sender in the true kind and helping spirit of any good nurse. “Winneshiek Medical Center, like any hospital, has a lot of moving parts and requires cooperation from all departments and employees. We, as nurses, shouldn’t get all of the attention. To see results, it truly requires teamwork from everyone involved.”

Be sure to thank Mary and any nurse that you may know for their hard work and dedication on this upcoming National Nurses Day.

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