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Ruth Jenkins Looks Back Over 50+ Years in Nursing

 

Ruth Jenkins
Ruth Jenkins talks with Bob Jenkins of Troy, a long-time cardiac rehab participant, at Upper Valley Medical Center’s Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Department. Ruth Jenkins was among the program’s founders. She and Bob Jenkins are not related.

Ruth Jenkins has seen many changes in nursing since she first stepped onto a patient floor at Stouder Memorial Hospital in the 1950s, but she said the biggest advances have come in technology. There were no heart monitors, blood gases, or rating system to help control pain when she started on the night shift in 1956 following graduation from Christ Hospital School of Nursing in Cincinnati.

“We did not have all of the technology that we have now, but our training was such that we were taught to use our senses – touch, smell, sight and hearing – to assess patients,” said Jenkins, who in September observed 50 consecutive years in nursing at Miami County hospitals.  Although retired in 2002 as Manager of Upper Valley Medical Center’s Cardiopulmonary Rehab, she remains a pool nurse in UVMC Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation, a program that, as one of its founders, remains dear to her own heart.

In addition to machines and devices that help in patient monitoring and care, information technology advances will continue to improve care, Jenkins said.

“One of the most wonderful things in general is the information sharing that will go on, which will make a huge difference. People living here and traveling to another state or country, will have their medical background accessible,” she said. “That will make a big difference in cost and timely treatment.”

A graduate of Troy High School, the then Ruth Bodenmiller was eager to start nursing school but attended at her parents’ urging one year of liberal arts education at Taylor University in Indiana.  She then entered a three-year nursing program at Christ Hospital.  At the time, there were few universities offering a bachelor of science degree in nursing. 

“My parents wanted me to be sure that I wanted to be a nurse, but I was always sure - from start to finish,” she smiled.  “I am very fortunate that I have always felt that I was exactly where I was supposed to be in life with my nursing career. I think that is very fortunate.”

The Christ Hospital nursing program included lots of clinical experience, Jenkins recalled.  “We worked different shifts at the hospital and we always had supervision, but we were thrown right into supervisory positions,” she said. “We were young and very nervous but the oversight, the supervision was very close and very strict.”  The students spent three months in various affiliations including psychiatric nursing, surgery nursing, Children’s Hospital and the TB hospital in Cincinnati.

When she first started the night shift at Stouder, the pay was around $14 for the shift, Jenkins said. “I remember the cost of a Caesarean then was 300 and some dollars, so it was all relative to the time.” she added.

Orientation was brief, unlike today when new nurse orientation can take from six weeks up to four months depending on where they work, Jenkins said. 

“Because we had all of that clinical background, we were ready to go once we learned our surroundings,” she said.  Jenkins worked in med-surg and pediatrics in the early days.

Following marriage to Pete Jenkins and the birth of son, David, Ruth took 18 months off after the birth of second child, Mary. Her service time leading to 50 years started with her return in September 1961.

She has seen several approaches to nursing over the years. Among them have been team nursing where a registered nurse is in charge of a group of patients and nursing assistants and possibly an LPN who work as a unit to deliver care. 

Another model is primary care nursing, where one RN has responsibility for a group of patients and provides total care from bathing to taking doctor’s orders and administering treatments and medications.  Now, there is often a form of team or collaborative nursing, with an RN in charge of a group of patients and tasks delegated to assistants. 

“A lot of the ways models for delivering nursing care have evolved really depend on supply and demand…and it still does,” Jenkins said.

In most models, there is a nurse who serves as shift supervisor. Jenkins spent many years in the role called nursing supervisor or nursing resource coordinator, among other titles.

“Over the years, I can remember some pretty serious situations we handled,” she said.  “I knew, for example, not to release the name of an accident victim until the family had been notified. I was often the person who had to call that family. “Sadly, I have many memories about those kinds of situations.” 

In the years when general practice physicians delivered babies, the nursing supervisors would be involved with deliveries and emergency surgeries, Jenkins recalled, adding, “You really did everything -- staffing, making rounds, calling in surgical teams, public relations, etc. -- when you were a supervisor at community hospitals like Stouder and Piqua.”

Other changes Jenkins has witnessed over the years include the growth in medical specialists and the need for more education for nurses. “It is absolutely essential for nurses now to have advanced degrees. It also is important for them to have certifications in their chosen specialty,” she said.

In 1985, Jenkins and Melody Campbell started the cardiac and pulmonary rehab department with two patients and the blessing of Stouder administrators.

“I am very, very proud of that department because I saw it grow,” she said with a smile, adding the unit sees around 100 patients a day in cardiac rehab and averages around 20 for pulmonary rehab.

“Heart disease is still the number one killer in this country and the people of Miami County need access to this important service. It is inconvenient to travel to Dayton three times a week for rehab,” she noted.

Jenkins remains affiliated with the Upper Valley Career Center’s School of Practical Nursing working as a clinical instructor and setting up nursing observation experiences.  She also finds it very rewarding to serve on the United Way Board of Troy, the UVMC Foundation Board, The Family Abuse Shelter Board and the Troy Festival of Nations.

The Jenkins have three children, David in Los Angeles and Mary and Julia, both who live in Dallas, and five grandchildren.

Would Jenkins want to become a nurse today?  “Oh yes, absolutely,” she replied. “It is a wonderful profession to have. You are able to blend family and work if you want to and there are so many facets of nursing.”