Less than two years into Patricia Barrow’s tenure as nurse manager of the recovery room at the 130th Station Hospital in Heidelberg, Germany, the hospital’s pediatric nurse manager went into premature labor and had to be rushed away to Frankfurt Army Hospital – just two weeks before a general inspection of the facilities.
"The powers that be decided that I could stand inspection in both the recovery room and pediatrics," Barrow said. "Luckily, the recovery room was ready, and they gave me some leeway on pediatrics because of the limited time I had to get the unit ready." Both of her units passed inspection.
After a geographically diverse career in military nursing, Barrow is enjoying civilian life at Denver’s VA Medical Center where she’s been nurse manager of the intensive care unit since January 2001. "I found that I really enjoy working with veteran patients. They are a unique group, and I cannot imagine caring for non-veteran patients," she said.
Growing up, Barrow couldn’t imagine pursuing anything but nursing. Both of her grandmothers and one of her uncles were LPNs. "I was always fascinated by the stories they told of their experiences. I was always the person who administered first aid to my injured friends and the kids at school. Biology was my favorite subject, especially anatomy. There was never any doubt that I would become a nurse."
She attended the University of Massachusetts, North Dartmouth Campus, where she received a BSN in 1977. Her first job was as night charge nurse at Wedgemere Convalescent Home in Taunton. Mass. "I had two LPNs and one nurse’s aide to care for 75 patients," she said.
She joined the Army in September 1978 and did basic training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. She was then assigned to Ft. Jackson, S.C., where her first job at Moncrief Army Hospital was on the acute respiratory disease floor. After about nine months, she was transferred to the multi-service medical and surgical floor.
In December 1980, Barrow was transferred overseas to the hospital in Heidelberg, Germany. She started out on the male and female surgical floor, but was crossed-trained in obstetrics.
"Approximately two months after this cross training, I was assigned as nurse manager of the pediatric ward. I had a two-hour crash course on nurse manager duties from the departing nurse manager, who thankfully left lots of little notes in the office to tell me what to do, and took charge," she said.
The doctors and staff were wonderful, Barrow said, and took the time to teach her pediatric nursing. "I gained a wealth of knowledge during my brief tenure there." She went on to manage the recovery room and cover for her pregnant replacement in pediatrics.
While in Heidelberg, Barrow made use of overseas learning programs to earn an associate degree in data processing from the City College of Chicago and a master’s degree in computer information systems from Boston University. "Unfortunately, the classes were scattered all over Germany, so it involved quite a bit of commuting," she said.
After a stint as nurse manager of the 50-bed medical and surgical floor, she was transferred to William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, in March 1985.
"They had just finished installing the hospital-wide computer system, and I, in my logical way of thinking, thought that I would be assigned as the nurse liaison to the computer department, having just completed my degree in that area," Barrow said.
Instead, she was sent to daily four-hour classes for two weeks to become a critical care nurse. In 1987, after giving birth to her daughter, Dorothy, and getting divorced, she decided to leave the military and move to Colorado.
Barrow worked for several nursing agencies to get a feel for civilian nursing. She was certified in massage therapy after completing training at the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado in 1991.
Her career at the Denver VA Medical Center began one day in February 1988, after she finished a shift at Denver’s University Hospital. Barrow walked over to the VA Medical Center next door. "I went in to fill out an application, was interviewed by the ICU nurse manager, and hired on the spot," she said.
She was assigned to the medical intensive care unit. "I worked primarily night shift for over 12 years. It enabled me to be available for my child’s school activities and to volunteer in the classroom," she said.
Barrow has seen a lot of change since 1977, when she began her career. "When I started nursing, nurses were expected to stand when the doctor entered and to be at his beck and call. The nursing profession has evolved to a point where nurses and doctors are colleagues, working together to provide health care."
"The acuity level of the patients in hospitals has increased – 10 years ago, most of the patients who are on regular wards today were in the ICUs, and most of today’s ICU patients would have died. Many of the patients treated as out-patients today were admitted 10 years ago," she said.
Barrow plans to be a nurse manager for at least five years and then decide if she wants to continue moving up in the administrative hierarchy. "I may want to branch out and do something that combines my computer degree with nursing – maybe developing nursing software," she said.
An avid reader, Barrow most enjoys mysteries. She likes spending time with her daughter, going out to eat, movies and knitting. Colorado’s nursing community is very well educated and professional, Barrow said, and it’s a good thing.
"Nurses have to be more knowledgeable and technically skilled than 10 years ago. And the opportunities for nurses today are endless."