After 47 years as a nurse, Saramma George, RN, CCRN, recently retired from a cardiac surgical ICU so she could enjoy more time with her family. George is a living historian of critical care nursing – witnessing and being part of major milestones over the past half century. Although the profession has evolved since she started her career, George says the care, dedication and innovative spirit she sees in her colleagues is as strong as ever.
Why did you become a nurse?
I felt a calling to help others, but the story is much more than that. Nursing was not in my plan when I came to this country as a teenager from India. While I was working at a hospital helping deliver food trays, I would often see my friend (who was a nurse) caring for her patients. That started a desire in my heart that this might be something I would want to do.
I believe this path was a calling; it was all divinely ordered. I was a foreigner and didn’t have the financial resources for nursing school. However, I believe God opened the way for me to get accepted to a nursing school where I was the first foreign student. Then to get a full scholarship, I feel like it was all God ordained.
How has your experience been as a nurse?
I feel like nursing is the greatest, most rewarding, satisfying and fulfilling profession. I’m very blessed. I wanted to be a pediatric nurse, but that never worked out. Eventually, I ended up working in the cardiac surgical ICU, mainly with all the artificial devices and heart transplants. It’s been a wonderful journey.
So many people traveled on this journey with me. My experience in nursing school gave me the greatest foundation. My teachers were my heroes because they invested in my life.
My own institution where I worked, Ascension Saint Thomas, has been a big support. My colleagues, many of the physicians, the nurses, all taught us to be where we are. Our hospital did the first heart transplant and the first artificial heart transplant in Tennessee, and I was part of that. I just had the greatest blessings in so many ways.
I also have a long history with AACN. Norma Shepard, Penny Vaughan and Vee Rice founded AACN in Nashville, Tennessee, and they were teachers of mine. After I started work, our hospital sent us to University of Tennessee in Nashville, for a one-month critical care course. This was a very intense and good education program that was started by Ms. Shepard, Penny and Vee. I got to know each of these women during that one-month course and saw their passion for critical care. I also got to know the foundation and the starting of AACN. After that, I became very involved in the local AACN chapters. I became very passionate about AACN and critical care, and I’ve been a proud member since 1974.
Over the years, several AACN presidents held different positions at my hospital. It was inspiring to see those directors in the research department and speakers at Nurses Week celebrations in different ways.
My unit presented a couple of poster presentations at NTI, and that was the greatest. Several of us from the unit went, and we always looked forward to NTI. I’ve also been an AACN ambassador and volunteer to review articles.
Tell us about one of your most meaningful nursing moments and its impact on you.
I worked in a heart transplant unit, and one of my patients was on the waiting list for a heart transplant. Of course, you never know when you’ll get a donor when you’re on the list. One of his wishes was to have me be the first person he saw when he woke up after the surgery. I was scheduled for a trip to India on vacation, so I wasn’t sure if I would be able to be there.
To make a long story short, he got his heart, and I was there to take care of him. I was the first one he saw when he woke up, and I saw him through the whole recovery process. I was still able to make my trip, and I kept up with him. We remained friends for 23 years. One of the most joyous moments was when his children invited my husband and me to the parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. They surprised him by having us there, and it was a moment I will always cherish.
If you could say anything to all of your patients over the years at the same time, what would it be?
I would say, “Thank you for giving me the honor to be your nurse. Thank you for allowing me to be involved in your and your family’s life.”
Some people want the same nurse all the time, and I’ve been requested a lot. My patients inspired me to show up each day at work. Some of my transplant patients have kept in touch for 20 and 30 years. That is so humbling. I thank them for being part of my life and making my journey a success.
What has changed the most since you became a nurse?
You know, with all the advancement these days, it’s a lot different from when I started. You have ECMO machines and artificial hearts – all these kinds of things that we can keep people alive for a long time. However, having a human touch, just someone nearby, and showing your care and compassion is needed as well. Nurses have to be there and to be a patient advocate to take care of them.
After 47 years as a nurse, what advice would you give to someone who’s just starting their nursing career?
First of all, make sure that you have a passion for nursing before you become a nurse. If you don’t have a passion or don’t feel a calling, it can be a very difficult job.
Learn from every opportunity that you have. I felt like there was something new I learned each day. So, never stop learning, and keep your values and standards intact. Don’t ever sacrifice your values and standards for someone to like you or to be popular. I’m just speaking from experience. Stand up for what you believe in; what you feel is the right thing to do, especially for your patients and their families. Be the best patient-family advocate you can be, because that’s one of the greatest rewards you will reap at the end.
Also, be respectful of your preceptor. It’s a different generation now than when I first started. It’s very important to respect your preceptor and to learn from them, because they have gone through so much. I know that many new nurses have a lot of good head knowledge. But the senior nurses have a lot to offer from experiences in clinical situations. So, listen to them, even if something, you know, is difficult.
Finally, I believe we need to stand up for our profession and to stand strong and stand tall. Be the best nurse you can be. One day you’re going to be sick, too, and somebody has to take care of us. So, just think about that too, how you want your nurse to be when you’re a patient.
Share Your Story
Do you or someone you know have an inspiring nurse story to tell? We want to hear from you. Submit your idea.