30 Years and Counting: Children’s Hospital Nurse Dedicated to Young Patients
Published: Thursday, May 14, 2020
Thirty years ago this month, Vicki Cheatwood began her nursing career at The Children’s Hospital at OU Medicine. The experiences of those three decades have not only confirmed that she’s in the right profession, but that she has never wanted to work anywhere else.
OU Medicine is celebrating nurses like Cheatwood during the 2020 Year of the Nurse, a designation of the World Health Organization. As a registered nurse on the Pediatric Medical Unit of The Children’s Hospital, Cheatwood cares for youth of all ages, often forming bonds with both patients and families. Because the unit treats patients from newborn through age 21, she enjoys the variety and challenge of caring for youth at various stages of development. Infants, toddlers and adolescents all require a different approach, but each needs a caring presence during a scary time.
“I feel like I have the ability to relate to children in their innocence, and it just makes my heart bleed when I know kids are hurting,” Cheatwood said. “I try to be as hands-on and comforting as I can, and I think I hit the mark with most of my patients. If I’m with them long enough, I can strike a chord. That’s really nice when I’m able to do that.”
Cheatwood wanted to train as a nurse since her own adolescence, but life dictated that she go to work instead. After marrying and starting her family, she began a job in the oil industry, working there until the oil bust of the 1980s. She decided it was time to revisit her dream of becoming a nurse and, after completing her education, she accepted a job at The Children’s Hospital.
“It’s the one and only nursing job I’ve ever had, and I’ve been on the same floor for 30 years,” she said. “I really like it because working with kids is exactly what I want to do, but it’s also a very well-rounded pediatric experience. The thought of going back to an 8-to-5 job doesn’t appeal to me at all.”
Patients in the Pediatric Medical Unit are dealing with both acute and chronic conditions, so their length of stay in the hospital varies. The medical unit also takes patients from the surgical unit when it is full. In addition to caring for her patients, Cheatwood’s commitment extends to families, who are worried and seeking answers about their child’s illness. For young, first-time parents, she sometimes guides them through the child’s development yet to come, both related and unrelated to the illness.
“Families need someone to listen to their fears and someone who will stay calm and reassure them that The Children’s Hospital is the place to be,” she said. “We are nothing if not thorough, and we will get to the bottom of the problem. Our attending physicians have such a wealth of knowledge, and we have well-trained specialists to call on in all the fields of medicine. I try to reassure families of that more than anything. My job is a little like waitressing – I want to make families as comfortable as I can, and if I can anticipate their needs, it takes a lot of stress off them.”
Unfortunately, not every child can be cured, and a nurse’s calming presence is meaningful then as well. “When a child dies, it’s such an emotional time for everyone and a somber time for the nurse. You realize that you’re part of something that the family will never forget, and you try to be as respectful and caring as you can. Someone needs to be there to help the family, and if that’s where God thinks I can help, then that’s where I want to be,” she said.
Because of her tenure at The Children’s Hospital, Cheatwood has trained many new nurses and interacted with a multitude of physicians, residents and students. She shares her experiences of being a young nurse who felt unsure about her conversations with patients and their families. But she also assures them that it won’t take long to acquire confidence and learn the importance of their presence.
“New nurses have to go through those steps of learning, but they quickly learn how to interact with their patients and families,” she said. “We have a lot of camaraderie on my unit. Both our nurses and doctors bring a lot of compassion and kindness into the job they’ve chosen.”