Windra Stringham’s father and grandmother were nurses. Her grandfather was a doctor. So it only made sense that, more than 10 years after graduating from high school and starting college, she would be … waiting tables and tending bar?
Sometimes, though, we need a little nudge to get going. Other times – well, more like painful shoves. In the case of Stringham – a critical care clinical educator at Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico – it took the fatal car accident involving her younger brother to jumpstart her nursing career. New Mexico’s healthcare has not been the same since.
Getting a Late Start
“I’d wanted to be a nurse ever since high school,” she said. “Probably even before that. But things happen and sometimes you get distracted. But with Chris, it really shook things up for me, made me understand that it was time to take care of things. I just felt like I needed to make a difference.”
And so she did, and at age 32 she became a nurse and, instead of things, began taking care of people.
“Doing what I do gives me incredible purpose in life,” she explained. “You feel like you really are making a difference. I am very proud of what I do.”
She’s not the only one.
Stringham was recognized for Excellence in Critical Care Nursing at the 2015 New Mexico Nursing Excellence Awards. She was nominated for the award by her boss, Susan Mullin, whose praise of her is astounding.
“Dedicated, hardworking, compassionate, caring, sensitive, professional, knowledgeable,” these are only a few of the characteristics of this remarkable nurse,” Mullin said. “Windra Stringham is so much more! She’s the nurse that the new nurses want to precept with, she’s the nurse whose peers want to work side by side, the nurse who takes the difficult patients, and the nurse who’s collaborating with the providers and advocating for the best possible care. She’s the nurse at the bedside holding the hands of a patient who’s fighting for their life while comforting a family member, smiling with every little improvement and wiping away tears as the patient drifts away. Windra is the nurse that families want to care for their loved ones.”
For her part, Stringham is humbled by the attention, with a caveat.
“It is such an honor for other people to see what you do and think so well of it. It is very gratifying – but it doesn’t make me feel any different about what I do, nor is getting the award the reason I am a nurse.”
As if to underscore the excellence with which she practices, Stringham was also named a recipient of a 2015 DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses.
“I can’t even describe what it feels like,” she said. “On some level, it’s like a kind of validation for what you do, but it is very humbling.”
Beyond the Bedside
Recently, Stringham was offered the opportunity to embrace a new role, and heartily accepted it as a critical care clinical educator.
“I do miss the bedside,” she revealed. “The contact you have as a critical care nurse with the patients is incredible. The personal stories that are shared … just them allowing you into their lives and those of their families. There’s something so intimate and powerful and really awesome about that. There’s nothing like it.
“But I am so passionate about sharing best practices and helping us provide the best care possible to our patients. I have learned so much – I think I would be a much better nurse if I went back to the bedside tomorrow – and there is so much I want to do, including stressing the importance of getting certified.”
“Just Get Better …”
Because the bottom line to what she and her peers do is not lost on her.
“Just get better,” she said, without any equivocation. “That’s it. We just want patients to get better. And many times they won’t, particularly in the area in which we work. When they are in critical care, they can get very ill very fast. But when they do get better, and they come back to visit and come up to you and say, ‘Thank you,’ boy, that’s a good day. That’s a really good day.”
The flip side, of course, is a hard one to handle, but just as important, Stringham said.
“Being there for the families is so important, because they have let you in and many times you feel like you are part of the family. To hold the hand of the family member when they lose somebody – or even when they don’t have anybody and can feel alone or vulnerable – to be able to be sitting with them and holding their hand as they pass is an honor.”
Outside of Work
To recharge outside of work, she depends on activities that are alternately relaxing and, well, not so much.
“I really enjoy gardening,” she said. “It really helps me to relax and calm down. And then, my husband and I and my husband like to go rock climbing – facing fear, and all that. It wakes me up a little bit.”
All of which serves as a way to replenish a seemingly endless reservoir of compassion.
“I have found that my patients make me a better person,” she explained. “And each has impacted my life in some way. As a nurse, you see the world through so many eyes when you’re caring for your patients and their families. Their stories have enriched my life so much. The pride and passion I have as a nurse is fueled by my patients.”