“When you need help finding a new primary care doctor or understanding the various medical specialties we offer, call us—Susie Skiles or Virginia Stanwyck—the Arnett Clinic Patient Referral Nurses,” reads the advertisement from 1993.
Susie Skiles retired in November 2008 after more than 15 years as a referral nurse and over 30 years as a nurse at Arnett Clinic. But would you believe that Virginia Stanwyck, RN, is still answering those calls, 29 years later—at the age of 85?
Since she was a youngster, Stanwyck knew she would work in healthcare. As a child, she was the one playing nurse on the front porch, taking temperatures and applying band aids.
When asked what has kept her going all these years, through nearly half of IU Health Arnett’s 100-year existence, Stanwyck shares, “I am greatly blessed to have been able to care for and help humankind through the nursing profession for 65 years—45 of those years here at Arnett Clinic.”
Stanwyck is a 1954 graduate of Lafayette Jefferson High School. She attended nursing school at the Indianapolis Methodist School of Nursing in Indianapolis, graduating in June 1957. She recalls that nursing in the 50s and into the 60s included non-disposable syringes, needles, rubber gloves, cloth gowns, etc.
Stanwyck began her nursing career in surgery at the former Montgomery County Culver Union Hospital in Crawfordsville, Ind. Several moves to Evanston, Ill.; Goodland, Ind.; Argos, Ind.; and then eventually back to her hometown of Lafayette in 1966 all afforded her opportunities in medical/surgical nursing. She has worked at an adoption agency teaching students in a newborn care program, in Ophthalmology and as a school nurse for K-12. Stanwyck cared for children with polio and in iron lungs during her time at Riley Children’s Hospital, and she worked for eight years at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Urology, Educational Services and Orthopedics—all before joining Arnett Clinic on June 13, 1977.
Stanwyck recalls that when she started at Arnett in the building at 2600 Greenbush St. in Lafayette, it was one building, without the north wing and other spaces like Urgent Care that would be added in later years. Charts were on paper and stored in ‘the Chart Room.’ Big appointment books with plenty of well-sharpened pencils and lots of erasers were standard.
Stanwyck initially worked in urology with doctors Schaaf, McKinley, Davis, Welch and, later, Perez. Stanwyck eventually transitioned to the ENT Department with doctors Thomas Brennan, William Bremer and Stephen Henson, who recently retired.
Personal connections were always part of Stanwyck’s work. She would make pencil notations on patient charts of upcoming events mentioned during their visit so she could make reference to it during a return visit. She sent Valentine’s Day cards to children she cared for.
In 1993, Stanwyck transferred to the Patient Referral and Advocacy team, an area of nursing that her diverse career and penchant for adding a personal touch for each patient had prepared her for. Knowing that she is often part of the experience recovery process, her calls often start with “How can I help you?” After hearing the caller’s need or concern, an understanding and empathetic voice goes a long way in easing tension. Frequently, she follows up with “Tell me about it and let me see how I can help.” If the call is a concern or a complaint, telling the caller “I am very sorry,” conveys to the caller that they matter.
Stanwyck says it is so important to simply listen to calls related to topics like a patient’s dissatisfaction with care, the perceived rudeness of staff, a provider who didn’t listen, etc.
“To listen with the EAR in your hEARt. Patient advocates can’t always solve the problem, but they certainly do try,” she shares.
The referral aspect of her job is assisting people looking for a primary care provider or who have a specific problem and are not sure who they should see. Patient needs also include non-medical issues such as transportation assistance, finding available community resources, how to get help with billing issues, etc. Referral nurses also serve as a resource for medical offices to assist with patient needs.
Stanwyck believes that is so hard to navigate healthcare for many patients in today’s world. Advances in technology have drastically changed diagnosing and treating health issues. But, she says, “technology can’t and must not replace the personal touch of healthcare. Nursing is a calling, not a job.”
Stanwyck shared that a special highpoint in her career was when she received the DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses in May 2014.
Today, at 85, Stanwyck works four afternoons a week. She takes Wednesdays off, because that is the day she dedicates to her other first love, music. She especially loves church music and has served as Director of Music at Bethany Presbyterian Church for the past 42 years.
Stanwyck has two biological daughters, Catherine and Caryn, and two grandsons, all living out of state. An adopted daughter, Lynn and her family—with four grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren and 1 great-great-granddaughter— live in Lafayette. In 1995, Stanwyck designed and built a house suitable to move her elderly parents in with her, and she cared for them until their deaths.
Stanwyck loves to travel and is looking forward to several trips this year—many rescheduled during the height of the pandemic.
On the topic of retirement and her hopes for the future, Stanwyck shares, “I pray to ‘eventually’ retire, gracefully, with not too many tears, knowing that I have done my best. I am grateful for all the wonderful team members I have been privileged to work with over these many years. My prayer is that, today and through all the years to come, God will bless all caregivers with the love, strength and humility, that only he can give, to keep nursing the profession as it was meant to be since the mid-eighteen hundreds.”