Thrive by IU Health

November 17, 2020

Long-time nurse known for educating the next generation of nurses

IU Health University Hospital

Long-time nurse known for educating the next generation of nurses

She has been at the bedside of countless patients – the sickest of the sick, and Marcia Harris has also been at the side of her team members coaching them through difficult situations.

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

Ask her team members what pops into their minds when they think of Marcia Harris and words like: “caring,” “compassionate,” and “knowledgeable” come to mind.

“Marcia is someone that could always be used as a resource for new nurse. She was not only a great nurse and loved to mentor others, but she is also patient and would explain everything in a way that made sense,” said fellow nurse Ann Whiteman.

Now, after 37 years with IU Health, Harris is retiring.

Harris grew up in Oakridge, Tenn., 25 miles west of Knoxville. Her late father, C. Lowell Edwards, worked as an internist in nuclear medicine. Along with her dad, her mother, Betty Edwards, raised four daughters. Harris was the eldest. In her younger days, Harris loved to sketch and she also enjoyed pulling together pieces of a project to solve problems, to come up with solutions. That skill later earned her the nickname, “MacGyver” among her health care peers.

After high school Harris moved to Indiana to attend Manchester University, an institution with ties to her family’s Church of the Brethren upbringing. As far back as she can remember, Harris was born to be an educator. She was a Sunday school teacher, and as a high school senior, mentored a group of 12-year-old campfire girls. So she was intent on becoming a teacher until her senior year at Manchester. She had a change of heart. She completed her degree in psychology and art and took a year to figure out her career path.

“I was always interested in science and biology and my dad was a physician so there was that influence,” said Harris, 64. She took a job in a nursing home and was scolded when she took on more than was expected of her in her role as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) “I was a CNA, but I was a frustrated CNA. I didn’t want to be so task-oriented that I couldn’t spend time with the patients,” said Harris. So she enrolled in IUPUI School of Nursing. She began her career at IU Health on her first day as an RN, May 6, 1983.

She started in what has evolved as the medical progressive care unit and she has never left.

“Marcia will be so missed. She was always advocating for her patients. I’ve seen the most difficult patients that could put most nurses in tears change their attitudes because Marcia would keep her same calm and soothing demeanor when dealing with them,” said Whitman who has worked with Harris for 23 years. “My first impression of Marcia was that she was obviously one of the smartest nurses I had ever met. She had so much knowledge and kindness all rolled into one awesome nurse that I wanted to be just like her one day,” said Jane Wood, who has also worked with Harris for 23 years. “Marcia was one of my preceptors and taught me so much about nursing. If anyone has a question about the physiology of a condition, Marcia could always explain it in a way that anyone could understand. She has always had the kindest, most patient heart of anyone I have ever met. She has a true passion for patient care and she has touched so many lives,” said Wood.

Throughout her career Harris’ role has evolved along with the patient population – that eventually included training in heart monitoring, and interpreting EKGs, medical management, and special devices. She’s seen nurses leave, new nurses come in, and she’s seen the unit grow. Many of the nurses have remained together for years. And in her role, she has been able to practice those teaching skills that were once a part of her career journey. She has trained more nurses than she can count.

“Marcia has been such a steadfast personality on our unit. She is someone who can be counted on to not only volunteer to educate the next generation of nurses, but to truly enjoy it. She loves education,” said co-worker Stephanie Waters. “She is someone who takes that extra time with her patients. Very rarely did she get out of work on time, but that was because she always made sure that every last task was complete before leaving. Nothing was ever left for the next shift. Her patients never wanted for anything. Her patients were always fluffed, tucked, mobilized and sanitized,” said Waters. She was also attentive to her coworkers, checking on their well being and bringing cookies to the morning huddles.

In addition to teaching others, Harris said one of the joys of her profession was she was always learning something new.

“It’s a dynamic unit. There’s not a day that goes by that education isn’t a part of it. I learn something new and I’m challenged in some way,” said Harris. “Not every day do you get that satisfaction that you feel good about what you do. I love the nurses I work with and I’ve always loved working at IU Health. There’s a the whole team approach and I’ve always felt a vital part of that team – from the respect of fellow nurses to the physicians.”

Harris remembers so many patients who have left a lasting impression over the years. When asked about one she recalled a woman that was about the age Harris is now. The patient was hospitalized several times with congestive heart failure. When Harris was preparing to discharge the patient, she sat down and gave the woman her full attention.

“I wasn’t looking at a computer screen or anything else and because of that I picked up on some body language that helped the woman manage her care after she left the hospital,” said Harris. The tending physician had prescribed a diuretic and the woman told Harris she wouldn’t take it. “When I asked her why she said, ‘I’m too young to spend the rest of my life in my apartment and I’m too old to pee all over myself,’” said Harris. “The drug caused her to be incontinent and I may never have known that she was going to leave the hospital and not take it, if I hadn’t given her my full attention. Instead, we were able to contact the physician and order something different.”

Two months after obtaining her nursing degree Harris met her future husband, John, at a singles dance. Together they have three daughters and five grandchildren.

In addition to being a great nurse, many of Harris’ coworkers know her for the artistry that overflows from her early years. That creativity comes in the form of patterns. “She is a great seamstress,” said nurse Joan Yager, who has worked with Harris since 1993. “I have seen many beautiful outfits for special occasions and many creative Halloween outfits for her children and now her grandchildren.” Harris once pushed her grandson in a stroller through the unit. He was dressed in her tailor-made lion Halloween costume.

Back in the third grade, Harris’ mother taught her to sew and she’s now passing on the hobby to her granddaughter. Over the years she’s sewn prom dresses and wedding dresses for her three daughters and hopes to do more sewing in her retirement. She also hopes to do more gardening and home improvement. Mostly, Harris said she’s looking forward to spending time with her grandchildren.

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