Brighter days: RN brings joy and understanding to long-term care
story and photo by James Coburn
Karen Hicks has spent her entire nursing career of 23 years serving patient care at Grace Living Center NW 10th Street in Oklahoma City.
“It was my first job when I got out of LPN school — the first place I applied for,” said Hicks, RN, MDS coordinator. When I came in Grace Living Center had just taken it over from the previous owner.”
They were not looking to hire anyone at the time, but somebody caught her as she was walking out the door, and asked her to fill out an application.
“I was hired and I’ve been here ever since,” she said.
Hicks earned her degree in nursing at Rose State College in Midwest City. She received her LPN license in 1994 at Metro Technology Center in Oklahoma City. When she was doing her clinicals at Grace Brookwood in Bethany, she knew that long-term care was the focus of her nursing trajectory.
“I guess it’s just the residents, she said. “They need somebody to make their day a little bit brighter for the eight hours I’m here.”
She began working nights as a floor nurse. Since then she has participated in a number of area. Hicks has been a wound care nurse, assistant director of nursing, and coordinated Medicare assessments.
“I am mostly a paper work and computer nurse now,” she said.
Still she gets to work on the floor which pleases her. She has gotten to know many of the residents through the years She loves being able to make them a little bit happier. Many of them don’t have families that visit them regularly.
Nursing is something that Hicks has been close to throughout her life. Her mother worked as a nurse aide in a nursing home. Hicks would accompany her to work as a young girl. So she figures that might figure in to what motivated her to pursue a nursing career.
“When I was young I wanted to be a veterinarian and that didn’t happen,” she continued with laughter, mentioning her dogs.
Nursing was her next best option. If she couldn’t take care of animals, she would take care of people, she said.
“All of my residents are special,” she said. “The Alzheimer’s unit is probably one of my favorite places to work. You go back there and every day is like a new day to them.”
Anything she does to brighten their day makes them happy, she added.
“They are so grateful and so happy. I mean I’ve had special residents throughout the years, but it’s all of them,” she said.
She also credits the certified nurse aides for their hard work they contribute to the Grace Living Center team.
“It’s a hard job to do, so I really admire them for that,” Hicks said. “They put in a lot of hard working hours.”
Hick knows of numerous occasions when she has observed the nursing staff as a whole going beyond their call of duty.
“They’re all busy and I know that, but anytime they can stop and take a little extra time to do something that’s out of their way is great,” Hicks said.
Not only do they have the satisfaction of helping humanity, being a nurse provides a lot of stability, she said. But working in a nursing home is a proclivity not designed for everyone’s individual talents, she said.
“There are different settings for different people,” she said. “So I think this setting wouldn’t be for everybody as hospitals can’t be for everybody. I don’t want to work in an emergency room and save lives. I would rather be here and make the life that they have happy now. But some people wouldn’t be happy doing this either.”
Serving the geriatric community in a long-term care setting requires compassion and patience, Hicks explained. Sometimes the residents living with dementia may say or do some things that might not be appropriate, she said.
“You have to be forgiving and understanding,” Hicks said.
She meets them where they are in life. When a resident living with dementia believes they are still living on a farm and need to feed the horses, Hicks goes with their frame of mind by redirecting them.
“OK, let’s eat breakfast and you go take care of the horse afterwards,” she will tell them.
Hicks’ love of life carries over to her career. When not at work, she loves going to the race track.
“I’m a dirt track junkie,” she said. “My daughter races race cars. Her husband races race cars and my son races cars.
“And then the rest of the time I watch the grandkids playing baseball.”