Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Leaving a legacy to begin a new chapter

Some might say that Norma Curry is a CoxHealth institution. As an Administrative Director of Nursing, Curry is one of the health care system’s top professionals – but back in 1968, she was simply a student entering the Burge School of Nursing (now Cox College). She didn’t know that 47 years later, she’d have risen through the ranks, spending her entire career in one place.
But on Dec. 24, nearly five decades after it began, Curry is closing the CoxHealth chapter of her life. She’s retiring, taking a legacy of memories and leaving huge shoes to fill.   

Choosing her career

Curry knew from an early age that nursing was what she wanted to do. “It’s just something that was in my heart,” says Curry. “From the time I was ever asked, (nursing was) all I ever thought of.”

Norma Curry in a yearbook photo from 1971.
In high school, she took classes geared toward that career. And after graduation, the only school she applied to was Burge School of Nursing. “I entered the school in ‘68, which was over on the North campus, and literally never left,” says Curry. She graduated in 1971, and began working as a staff nurse in the Cardiac Care Unit (CCU) all while working on her BSN, which she obtained in 1972.

That role in the CCU, and later in the Emergency Department, also gave Curry her first management experience and led to her promotion to evening supervisor. Things just snowballed from there. “Then from evening supervisor to dayshift assistant director to director to administrative director,” says Curry of her career progression.

Looking back   

That experience has showed Curry more than just how to be a good manager: It’s given her a first-hand look at how health care has changed over the years. She recalls things, years ago, that were different – such as admitting patients to the hospital to run tests.  “That was the common, totally acceptable thing to do,” she says. “So you came in for your checkup and your battery of tests and you might be in the hospital two or three days.”

She recalls the construction of Cox Medical Center South in the early 1980s, which was initially designed to be a niche women and children’s hospital. But in the 2.5 years it took to build the hospital, Springfield had changed enough to warrant more expansive services on the south side of town. They decided to add services such as adult medical-surgical and critical care units and “see if the beds would fill,” says Curry. They did. “Then we just opened unit after unit after unit and saw the need grow, and never looked back again.”

But despite the innovation that came with a new hospital, Curry recalls some things that took a little longer to modernize. One example is the immortalized all-white nurses’ uniforms, which was never complete without a white cap. “I still have two places on my head where the bobby pins went that don’t have as much hair,” says Curry. “It was heavy, it was awkward. And it got knocked around a lot when you were actually giving patients care.”

Despite its tieback to nursing’s proud history, that’s one thing that Curry wasn’t sorry to see go by the wayside. “You finally had to break that mold and realize that you’re a professional, regardless of what you wear – and whether or not you have that precious, blessed cap on your head,” says Curry.

Personal journey

As the days fade away, Curry knows what she’ll miss the most about CoxHealth. “The stress? No. The long hours? No. Being on call? But the people. The relationships,” she says.

After all, those relationships have had nearly five decades to grow and develop – offering a network of support, such as when tragedy struck through the death of her 15-year-old daughter. “I just will never forget how kind and caring people were during a time in my life when I didn’t know how I could put one foot in front of the other,” Norma says.
She also recalls the new graduates she hired, and the joy that comes from watching them rise through the ranks. “And now one is going to walk into this office and sit in that chair,” says Curry, pointing to the seat behind her desk. “Those are friendships and relationships that couldn’t have been forged any other way than to just be here and be a part of this.”