IU Health University Hospital

Her career spans more than three decades, training more than 100 new nurses

Patient Story

She’s been called “a calming force,” and “an excellent teacher.” Joan Yager has dedicated more than three decades to nursing at IU Health.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

There’s a saying around the Medical Progressive Care Unit at IU Health University Hospital, “Do it for Joan.”

Team members not only admire Joan Yager but also strive to emulate her. Her peers recently recognized her for 35 years of service to IU Health. The truth is, Yager started her career at Methodist Hospital but thought the hospital was too big so she left for three months and then returned.

“I went to a smaller hospital and didn’t think I’d be challenged enough so I came back to IU Health,” said Yager, who has spent the majority of her career working at the bedside of patients in the Medical Progressive Care Unit. She’s also served as a preceptor for more than 100 new nurses.

Monica Wilhelm was one of those new nurses. Yager took her under her wing for Wilhelm’s senior year capstone and then on-boarded her at IU Health.

“Everyone says she’s intimidating because she’s so thorough, but really she puts her heart into everything. I wouldn’t be the nurse I am now without her guidance,” said Wilhelm, who now helps acclimate new nurses joining IU Health.

A native of Southern Rush County, Yager grew up on a farm where her family raised hogs and harvested corn and soybean crops. She was the eldest of 10 children born to Francis and Kathleen Yager. The eldest and youngest siblings are separated by 21 years.

“We grew up doing a lot of gardening, canning, freezing, and grinding your own hamburger,” said Yager, a graduate of the University of Evansville. “My friends used to tease me in college because I ate fast. With ten kids we didn’t fix much and by the time it went around the table you might not get your fill.” Her role in the family hierarchy also meant that she and her younger sister helped with the cooking and cleaning.

“We were just a hardworking family. I admired that in my parents,” said Yager. Later in life her mother also became a nurse.

“She always encouraged me to go into nursing. I think because she wanted to become a nurse one day and she also saw me in that oldest sibling role where I was nurturing,” said Yager. In college she attended the University of Evansville’s study abroad center, Harlaxton College in Lincolnshire, England and worked in an OB unit at a nearby hospital. She spent part of her senior year of college working for the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C. on a project involving insulin pumps. Yager started her nursing career working in a 49-bed diabetic unit at Methodist Hospital. When she moved to University Hospital she worked in the medical unit primarily caring for renal patients. She then joined a medical-surgery resource pool working in various areas including OB, psychiatric care, and hematology-oncology. Eventually she saw IU Health separate the progressive care unit into medical progressive care and surgical care. She remained part of the medical progressive care team.

“I love my team and I have worked with some great physicians over the years,” said Yager. In addition to being a preceptor and clinical instructor, Yager is certified in critical care and progressive care, and has been nominated for a Daisy Award, recognizing extraordinary nurses.

Her peers have said, “She’s one of the best preceptors ever,” “If you want to hang with Joan you better wear running shoes. She’s always on the go,” and “When there’s a code, she is calm and cool because she knows it sets the tone.” One co-worker called her a “Nursing Jedi Master.”

Her supervisor Frank Anderson describes Yager as humble. “She doesn’t realize the inspiration she has on everyone – not just nurses but our staff. She leaves a memorable impression on everyone. She’s passionate about what she does and how she does it. She’ll do anything for anyone.”

Yager trains nurses the way she would want to be trained – focusing on critical thinking and organization.

“I try not to overwhelm them,” said Yager. “On the first day they just follow me and then on the second day they learn by doing. I’ll give them one patient and then I quiz them over that patient, asking questions like ‘what are the three biggest problems you’re watching for and accessing?’ Then I will have them show me their organization sheet and help coach them through what we will talk to the doctor about.” She also learns from new hires.

“They’ve taught me things about the most recent research-based practices and I think that’s important because as a nurse you should constantly be learning,” said Yager, who recently became certified in chemotherapy/immunotherapy.

She also encourages other nurses to care for themselves.

“Because our patients are so sick I get to work with so many people in so many departments – speech, physical therapy, radiology, dietary,” said Yager. “Also because our patients are so sick, there can be days that are tough. I tell them ‘you will have codes, you will have patients die, you have to lean on each other and find ways to handle stress.’”

When she’s away from the hospital, Yager enjoys photographing her nieces’ and nephews’ sports activities, and traveling. She has driven to Alaska twice, traveled to Canada, Washington, California, and Oregon. She’s in the process of planning a trip to the Grand Canyon.

So what’s next for her nursing career?

“I see myself celebrating 40 years. I love the patients and my team and I want to keep at it.”

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