Vicki Brooks reported for her first shift at Newman Regional Health on July 2, 1975. She has continued to report for duty since that time. After 46 years of nursing, Brooks retired on Wednesday.
Brooks doesn’t remember a time in her life when nursing wasn’t on her mind. Her mom was an RN and Brooks says she always knew she wanted to be a nurse. She was so determined to become a nurse she actually started working at the hospital while she was still in high school.
“I would finish classes and change at the high school and go right to the hospital for my shift,” Brooks said. “I worked part time at the hospital all through high schools, working 3 - 11 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday and one day during the weekend.”
After completing high school she continued to work at the hospital while she completed nurses training through the Newman Hospital School of Nursing. She worked on the medical floor which overtime added telemetry services. She spent years working evenings on the medical floor, which gave her plenty of time to visit with patients, getting to know them and providing health education to them and their families. It also gave her time to continue her education at Emporia State University.
“Since I was working evenings, I started taking classes during the day to complete my prerequisites, hoping Emporia State would add a bachelors of nursing program,” Brooks said.
Brooks finished all of her prerequisite classes but there still wasn’t a nursing program at ESU. So she took a couple of business classes and found she enjoyed them. She continued and eventually graduated with a business degree. She had no sooner graduated when ESU debuted their BSN program. She immediately enrolled and graduated with the Bachelors of Science in Nursing in 1997.
After years of working evening shifts on the medical floor, Brooks made the transition to staff development coordinator. She has spent the last 34 years serving in education at the hospital while still sneaking in a few PRN shifts in cardiac rehab and admission triage. The shift to education gave Brooks a little more flexibility during the day to meet the needs of her growing family. Over the years, Brooks and her husband Eddie, welcomed three daughters, Kendra, Ashley and Whitney.
Much has changed since Brooks reported for her first shift at the hospital. Nurses are no longer wearing all white and those nurse’s caps have been discarded. The days of charting by hand are over, replaced with computers and programs to log patient care activities and track medication. The number of patients at the hospital has changed dramatically. Brooks remembers a time when the hospital was licensed for 172 patients; the hospital is now a 25 bed critical access hospital.
“Back then you didn’t have to qualify for a hospital stay,” Brooks said. “So if people were going out of town they would just drop their elderly relatives off at the hospital.”
Part of Brooks’ responsibilities in education included giving children’s tours and teaching the babysitters’ course. These activities have made her well-known among youth in the community, many remembering the safety tips she taught and how pleased they were to receive their official babysitter certificate. Many also remember taking a hospital tour with Brooks and “Hopsy the Bunny.”
“The kids always loved going with Hopsy and I to see the tube room,” Brooks said. “That is where the pneumatic tubes would go that would transport paperwork throughout the hospital. We would let the kids send a note through the tubes and nurses would send them a note back.”
Those pneumatic tubes are no longer in use at the hospital but before they were retired they proved quite useful in saving Brooks one evening. Years ago, the hospital had a psychiatric unit called the PACE unit. When the PACE unit was closed it left several spare rooms that worked great for Brooks to hold her education classes in. One evening she went to the hospital to set up for a class the next day. When she went into the PACE unit she propped the door open only to find someone had closed it when she went to leave.
“I was locked in the PACE unit and there were no connected phones,” Brooks said. “I knew it would be a long time before Eddie started missing me at home and no staff came by. I went and looked and there was actually one tube left so I wrote a note and I remember specifically writing, ‘this is not a joke, I am locked in the PACE unit.’”
Fortunately, Brooks’ note was received and she was freed before morning.
With four decades of time at the hospital Brooks has many memories to look back on fondly. She has built relationships with patients, their families and her co-workers. She has witnessed changes that have improved patients’ quality of life. She has even watched as two of her daughters, Kendra and Whitney, entered the medical field themselves.
Kendra works as a nurse and Whitney works in radiology at the hospital. Recently, Brooks and her daughter, Kendra, spent the day working together, administering COVID-19 vaccines.
“I became a nurse to be a floor nurse and I loved getting to have a relationship with patients and their families,” Brooks said. “In education, I hope that I’ve made a difference to new nurses.”
In her final days of employment Brooks was busy training her replacement and wrapping up lose ends. She is also looking forward to her retirement. She anticipates spending more time with her six grandsons who all reside in Emporia. She enjoys volunteer work and hopes to have more time for the causes that are important to her. Most of all she is looking forward to traveling, hoping to take a trip to Hawaii as soon as COVID-19 is under control.
“I will miss a lot of things about the hospital,” Brooks said. “It has been like my second home, but I’m ready for this new stage.”