By Anita Creamer and Monique Binkley Smith, Vitals Contributors
For 34 years as an intensive care nurse, Mary Blanchard has served on the frontlines, caring for patients through some of the worst epidemics—and now a pandemic—in modern times.
For many people, providing bedside care in the midst of crisis would be daunting, but for Blanchard, who is interim ICU supervisor at California Pacific Medical Center’s Van Ness campus in San Francisco, patient care is the part of nursing that she loves most. Whether her patients are suffering from AIDS as many were in 1988 when Blanchard began her career, or COVID-19, or some other critical illness or injury, taking care of patients and comforting their families brings her joy.
“I work really hard at making patients feel safe. If I can make a patient who’s scared and in pain feel safe, I’ve done my job that day,” Blanchard says. “My reward at the end of shift is that for a few minutes, that patient and family found peace.”
Rising to the Challenge of Our Time
In the spring of 2020, as COVID-19 emerged, Blanchard found herself called to guide and advise younger nurses. As a preceptor, she teaches nursing colleagues new skills and helps shape new generations of nurses coming along behind her.
“Early on, some of the younger nurses seemed a little panicked at the thought of dealing with COVID patients. I told them, ‘Caring for patients at the toughest possible times is part of what we do as nurses. It’s important we’re always here for our patients, no matter what.”
In combination with patient care, precepting helps sustain Blanchard and enhances her job satisfaction. She is hopeful that through her precepting work, she may also be encouraging and inspiring young nurses to spend their careers at CPMC and Sutter Health.
“If younger nurses feel comfortable coming to someone when they’re nervous, they’ll be more likely to stay,” Blanchard says. “Retention is difficult with this generation. I really want them to love working here like I love working here.”
Every day in the ICU, she says, she and her fellow nurses have to be ready to meet challenges head-on. “I’ve learned something new every day at work. On this unit, we have a lot of independence, and we’re never bored. You’ve got to stay on top of your game.”
“No matter what’s happening in your own life, it’s that patient’s worst day of life,” Blanchard says. “You have to put everything in your own life aside. It’s not about you.”
“I’m so proud of all the extraordinary work our nurses do to make this place work,” she says, “I’m very proud of this place.”