While other teenage girls spent their evenings putting together their set of clothes for the next morning, Kesha Andrews Prystupa was busy prepping her mother's outfit.
"I always made sure she had the best starched uniform," she said with a laugh, nodding across a conference room table at the University of Mississippi Medical Center toward her mother, who was wearing a perfect white nurse’s coat.
Kesha and her sister, Michelle Andrews Moore, spent countless evenings during their high school years poring over medical term flashcards and anatomical charts with their mother, Darlenia Andrews, while she worked her way through nursing school. She had home-schooled all three of her children, and when she heeded her internal calling to change careers and become a nurse, her girls returned the favor, doing everything they could to help their mother realize her goal. After seeing the success and fulfillment their mother experienced as a fledgling nurse practitioner, it surprised few when all three of Darlenia's daughters expressed their own individual intentions to become nurses. Today, Darlenia, Kesha, and Michelle all work at the University of Mississippi's sprawling medical campus.
"I can honestly say that being a nurse is beyond wonderful," Darlenia says. "I am in love with every single facet of my job. That my daughters find the same joy in nursing that I do is such a blessing."
Her sentiment matches that of Jeanne Fortenberry, Chief Nursing Officer at Woman’s Hospital in Flowood. Misti Ready, her daughter, followed in footsteps that were made not only by Jeanne but also by Misti’s grandmother, Virginia Turnage. Today, she is a Hospitalist Nurse Practitioner at River Oaks. Together, the three generations of family nurses have provided nearly 70 years of combined care over the past five decades.
Jeanne is quick to point to her mother, who began her nursing career in 1966 and had a long, successful professional life at University Hospital (now UMMC) and the Lawrence County Nursing Center, when asked why she felt the urge to begin a nursing career over 30 years ago.
"My mother Virginia has always, always been my role model. She is the most caring person I've ever met, and I know that being a nurse brought her an entire lifetime of fulfillment," she said. "I spent time at work with my mother when I was growing up. I worked as a candy striper and she would let me come along with her. Seeing her interact with patients really opened my eyes to how hard her job was, but understanding the joy she found in her work made it clear to me that one day I would follow in her footsteps."
Linda Banks, an orthopedic nurse at St. Dominic’s Hospital, is part of another nursing family. Her mother, Mary Hale, was in her 40s when she became a nurse’s aide at St. Dominic’s and had always wanted to be a nurse, but, at that time, educational opportunities were limited for her. Mary raised four children, two of whom, including Linda, are nurses. Now, Linda’s daughter Sarah is a new cardiac nurse at St. Dominic’s, and her younger daughter Brooke is in nursing school and will have an externship at the hospital this summer.
Not only is Linda a seasoned hospital nurse, she went back to school, when Sarah and Brooke were girls, to earn her master’s degree. Her advanced degree enables her to be also an instructor in nursing at the Allied Health Center at Hinds Community College, where Sarah studied and where Brooke is currently a student.
Sarah wishes she had found her career earlier. She taught English for a couple of years but admitted it was not a great fit for her. “I thought long and hard about nursing. My mother told me to be careful because it can be difficult, but once I decided to go back to school, she was very encouraging about my choice.” On the first day she worked as a nurse tech, she knew she had made the right decision. Sarah said, “For me, nursing is more fulfilling because I can see immediately the difference I am making in someone’s life.”
About St. Dominic’s and her first nursing job, Sarah said, “I love being a nurse. I love my job, and I never considered applying anywhere else. I knew I wanted to be right here.”
Nursing has come a long way since Florence Nightingale. Today, as many physicians decide to pursue practices that are becoming increasingly specialized, nurses, too, have stepped up to the plate in specializations.
"When I began working in the hospital, I was amazed by how much our nurses do, by how large a role they collectively fill," said Matt Westerfield, UMMC's Director of Public Affairs.
Darlenia and her daughters, at UMMC, are shining examples of the diverse roles that nurses play. Darlenia is a nurse practitioner specializing in pediatric urology, while Kesha is responsible for all pediatric trauma performance improvement, and Michelle is a newly-minted charge nurse for the adult emergency room.
Of course, having multiple generations of medical minds in the family comes with benefits for relatives. "When someone we are related to is ill, we become a brain trust," Michelle said with a laugh. "They get the best of all of us," her mother chimed in. The combined knowledge and experience of the three nurses means doling out care and medical advice is part and parcel for this family.
Jeanne points out that being a nurse when a family member or friend is ill comes with its own set of challenges.
"It can be difficult being a nurse when someone close to you needs help. I am expected to have all the answers, and sometimes I just can't," she said. "Also, if a family member or close friend is seriously ill, it can be painful knowing all of the possible complications they could possibly face. Still though, at the end of the day, it's heartening to know that people I love respect and need my knowledge and care. I love that my daughter and I can share the burden and joy of taking care of our family if the need arises."
As for the chances that Darlenia's grandchildren may one day make this a three-generation medical family like Virginia Turnage's, only time time will tell. Both Michelle and Kesha's children are quite a few years off from venturing down any sort of career path, but they say their young children are keenly interested in medicine.
Kesha relayed a recent conversation between her children: "Over dinner, my 10-year-old daughter said to my 8-year-old son 'I think that I'm going to be a doctor' to which my son replied, 'That's great! I'm going to be a neurosurgeon! Maybe we will run into each other in the hall!'"
One thing all the women agreed on was that sharing a profession with family members most definitely comes with its share of advantages.
"Even though we all work on the same medical campus, we don't necessarily see each other every day," Michelle said, "but it's an amazing feeling to know that if I am having a rough day or need a bit of encouragement, I call on both my mother and my sister for comfort and guidance."
Linda enjoys the camaraderie and the nursing culture she shares with her mother, Mary, and with her daughters Sarah and in the near future, Brooke. “When friends realize we have a three-generation family of care-givers, they say ‘Wow,’” she said. “They also joke that they’ll have a nurse to take care of them when they get old.”
“I also appreciate the fact that we have the continuity, link and loyalty in having a bond through nursing,” she continued.
Both Jeanne and Misti also spoke of the bond that comes from having another nurse in the family.
"We share a common language now," Jeanne, the CNO at Woman’s Hospital, said. "Our generational bond goes beyond grandmother to mother to daughter; our bond is deeper. It's built on the idea that we can care for others. It's a powerful thing for the three of us to be able to share."
"It's especially nice now that my mother and I work for the same company," Misti said. "We get to see each other at meetings and events and get to vent our frustrations and share our successes with each others. She's always been my mentor and it's great to have her there to see me as I make strides in my own career."
Whether they are lucky enough to work with members of their immediate family or not, the sense of making a difference, of providing care and comfort to others and of joining a community that continues to live and thrive outside of hospital walls is what draws many nurses to the profession.
"I have hundreds and hundreds of patients who live in my mind," Michelle says. "Even when they have long left the building, they are still with me, and that, to me, is the single most fulfilling aspect of my career."