St. Luke’s spotlights Ruth Cantrell as celebration of National Nurses Week

Published 7:35 pm Thursday, May 12, 2011

The work of America’s 3.1 million registered nurses to save lives and to maintain the health of millions of individuals is the focus of this year’s National Nurses Week, celebrated annually May 6 – 12 throughout the United States. This year, the American Nurses’ Association (ANA) has selected “Nurses: Trusted to Care” as the theme for 2011.

Ruth Cantrell

Annually, National Nurses Week begins on May 6, marked as RN Recognition Day, and ends on May 12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale, founder of nursing as a modern profession.

Traditionally, National Nurses Week is devoted to highlighting the diverse ways in which registered nurses are working to improve health care. From bedside nursing in hospitals and long-term care facilities to the halls of research institutions, state legislatures and Congress, the depth and breadth of the nursing profession is meeting the expanding health care needs of American society.

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Today’s nurses must have the strength to care for patients during times of disaster and crisis; they must have the commitment to remain involved in continuing education throughout their careers and they must have the compassion it takes to provide hands-on patient care at the bedside – as they have done throughout the centuries.

“Ruth Cantrell exemplifies the versatility and longevity within the nursing profession,” says Sandy Brooks, St. Luke’s Hospital chief nursing officer. “There are some nursing jobs that are for the young and energetic and there are nursing careers that are able to share the wisdom and experience that comes from a lifetime of serving their family, friends and neighbors throughout the healthcare continuum. There is a niche for anyone who has the passion to serve others.”

Cantrell has seen her share of changes in healthcare during her 45 years as a registered nurse. In 1948, Cantrell joined the St. Luke’s Hospital family as a second-shift nurse. Making $143 a month, Cantrell said she thought she had hit the jackpot.

Cantrell had to take a leave of absence from nursing, but came back in 1966 and has been a nurse at St. Luke’s Hospital ever since. Born in Tryon, Cantrell graduated high school and continued to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta for her nursing training.

She has worked in different capacities at St. Luke’s, including part-time and full-time, as well as in the operating room, as a floor nurse, in the emergency room and as a supervisor. In 1992 Cantrell became the employee health nurse, where she oversees new employee physicals, employee vaccines and on-site incidents that may occur.

When asked about her desire to become a nurse, Cantrell said, “I always wanted to be a nurse. I had an aunt who was a nurse and I always wanted to be like her. I also wanted to become a nurse because I wanted to make a difference and help people.”

Cantrell fondly recalls some of her favorite nursing memories, “I remember when we received our first defibrillator,” she laughs. “Everyone was afraid to use it! Now you can find one on every corner!

“Over the last 45 years, I’ve seen how nursing has changed and advanced and anyone coming into nursing will need to be adaptable to change,” said Cantrell. “I’d say that having access to disposable items has changed nursing the most – and for the better! We had to re-sterilize needles for shots and IVs! We’d boil them and let them dry. Can you imagine how dull those needles must have gotten?” Cantrell laughed at the memory.

“We also had to re-sterilize our gloves,” added Cantrell. “We would wash them by hand and hold them up to a light to see if they had any holes in them. If we found a hole, we’d patch it up! We sure have come a long way from that.”

“It’s amazing to see someone provide this many years of service to an organization,” said Ken Shull, CEO. “I want to express my gratitude to Ruth for her contribution over all these years. It is such an achievement and it’s dedicated employees like Ruth who are passionate about patient care that make St. Luke’s Hospital the fantastic organization it is.”

Cantrell lives in Tryon with her husband of 61 years, Paul. She has two daughters (Linda, who works at the Clerk of Court office and Julie, an RN at St. Luke’s Hospital), a grand-daughter (Melinda) and two grandsons (Alex and Jonathan). She enjoys spending time with her family, music, reading and her dog, Willie, and cat, Sumu.

– article submitted by Jennifer Wilson