Domestic violence survivor and IU Health team member Sandi Pierce always knew she was meant to work in healthcare, but that meant facing one of the darkest times in her life.
By Charlotte Stefanski, marketing associate, email@example.com
Since joining IU Health in 2016, Sandi Pierce has held a variety of roles, from environmental services, to screening visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic, and even preparing surgical tools in central sterile.
But when she was asked to come to IU Health North Hospital in 2018, Pierce didn’t know if she could do it.
While she knew she belonged in healthcare, the hospital symbolized one of the darkest times in her life. Eleven years prior, she had been taken there as a patient when her then-husband attempted to kill her.
“This hospital holds a lot of special meaning in my heart, because to me, this is where I got put back together and started my journey of moving on, being happy again,” Pierce says.
During that time, Pierce underwent facial reconstruction on the right side of her face. She bonded strongly with one of her nurses, who was also a survivor of domestic violence.
“We started talking and she was a survivor. She’s like, ‘You can do this.’ I’m like, “I’ve got four kids. I can’t,’” Pierce remembers. “She said, ‘You can do this. Trust me. If I can do it, you can do it.’ That started my journey.”
Pierce had always dreamt of being a nurse, especially when it came to the surgical floor (OR). She was trained as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at just 16 years old, but a car accident in 1996 prevented her from continuing her career in nursing.
Wanting to stay in healthcare, she took on an environmental services (EVS) role, where she was focused on keeping the hospital clean.
“I fell in love with doing that, because it kept me in the medical field, where I always wanted to be,” she says.
Pierce started her career at IU Health in 2016, when she began working in the EVS department at IU Health Saxony—soon to be IU Health Fishers. There, she would move up to the role of floor tech, and in 2018, her supervisor asked if she’d be willing to move to IU Health North Hospital as a fill-in team leader.
As memories began to resurface, Pierce wasn’t sure if she could walk into North again. She explained her situation, and her supervisor understood. But she wanted to see for herself.
“I came over one day on a Saturday. I was so angry up until that point,” she explains. “I walked in and it just all went away. I was like, ‘Okay. I’ve come full circle.’ I had so much peace.”
Pierce accepted the role, but after a few years, the work began to put a strain on her back. Her doctor told her she would need surgery or to find a job where she wouldn’t be on her feet all day.
Around the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic had begun. To help keep the hospital safe, IU Health adopted a screener role in the guest relations department. Team members were stationed at each hospital entrance to screen patients and visitors, asking if they had any COVID-19 symptoms, explaining the hospital’s current policies, instructing them to put on masks and guiding them to the correct location.
The role was perfect for Pierce, as it allowed her to sit down for most of her shifts at North. One of her favorite parts was seeing regular patients come in and interacting with them before they went to their appointments.
At IU Health, the screener role was always going to be temporary, but it was unclear just how long the pandemic would last. Pierce remained in the role until July 2022, when it was decided the role would be retired as COVID-19 cases dwindled.
Sonya Peitz, manager of guest relations and volunteer services in the IU Health Indianapolis Suburban Region—which includes IU Health North, Saxony, Tipton and West hospitals—says there were about 14 team members in the screener role around the time it ended.
However, just because the role ended doesn’t mean they didn’t have a home at IU Health. Peitz explains that those 14 team members were a top priority in working with human resources to find a new role at their hospitals. And so far, 11 have.
At first, Pierce was a little nervous about losing her guest relations position, but then, she realized she had a strong network at the hospital.
When people began asking her what role she might like, she immediately said central sterile, the department where surgical tools and other equipment is sanitized and prepared for procedures.
Pierce has always been drawn to surgery, even when she was cleaning in EVS. She’d stand outside the OR door, trying to peek at the procedures.
It’s now her third week into the role, and right now, she’s learning about laparoscopic surgical tools.
“I’m learning as I go. There’s a lot of tools to learn. Some of them can be confusing because they look a lot alike but there's little similarities and things that are just a little different,” Pierce explains. “I’m 50 now, and it’s like I’m going back to school.”
Central sterile positions require a high school diploma, and team members have plenty of opportunities to take tests, receive certifications and move up in the department.
One day, Pierce hopes to be up in the OR, possibly as a scrub tech, who hands tools to surgeons.
“I really want to be up there,” Pierce says. “That’s my goal, to work my way up.”
Since joining IU Health, fellow team members have always been a family to Pierce, no matter what department she’s been in. She even helped her fellow screeners find a role they might enjoy.
Despite the shift in roles, it’s been important for her to stay at IU Health North. It’s home to her.
“When I came here, and I felt that peace, it was like this is where I need to be,” she says. “This is where I want to end my career. This is it.”