Becoming a nurse enabled Carolyn Burton to find a job anywhere in the world that her husband, a Navy officer, was transferred. “I ended up in surgery as a scrub nurse, in the emergency room, in trauma, and in the coronary care unit,” she recalled. “At the time I graduated from nursing school, most started off in hospital nursing whether you wanted to or not. I went into shift work in a medical/surgical setting. I’m a people person and I enjoy talking with my patients and listening to their stories, but when you’re in the hospital, you need to be really conscious of having certain things done at a certain time. I was constantly finding myself in ‘hurry-up mode’.”
While she loved nursing and appreciated the job security, Burton wanted to care for patients in a different environment. “When I entered into nursing, patients were more likely to stay a long time in the hospital, because of the way insurance worked, even if they weren’t improving and there was nothing I could do to help them improve. At least, went I went to work in the ER, patients came in, we’d fix them up and they’d go home. That was more satisfying.”
But the pace was still too demanding, especially when Burton found herself back in her home state of California, working 12-hour-shifts, while her husband was deployed and she was alone with two young sons. That’s when she found the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and began working as a traditional visiting nurse. That was 23 years ago.
“It’s been a godsend and a blessing,” she said. “As a nurse educator, I just love what I do. I work with mothers and babies and with seniors and retired service members or their widows. With all my clients, I have an opportunity to help them improve the quality of their lives. I have the time to talk and to listen.” Burton credits her strong faith with guiding her through her nursing career and for helping her develop the kind of character and integrity that are important to being a nurse.
While she no longer works as a hospital nurse, she is still active in hospital-based programs that benefit her NMCRS clients. “The Camp Pendleton Naval Hospital welcomes us, and they’ve invited us to be involved in many things,” she explained. “I’m connected with their exceptional family program for military families with children with special needs. I see a lot of children with developmental or physical delays and I make sure they have the resources they need. A lot of the moms I see are 20 years old or less and away from home. We sit down and I answer their questions. Mostly, their question is, “Am I doing it right?’”
At the other end of the lifespan spectrum, Burton works closely with seniors to make sure they’re taking their medications correctly. Caring for elderly clients involves more than just visiting them in their homes, but talking to their families all over the country to help them understand how they can best help their aging parents.
Burton sees it as a privilege to accompany clients on what can often be emotional medical journeys. “I recently received some photos from a grandmother who was one of my clients when she was pregnant,” Burton recalled. “She had a lot of medical issues. It didn’t seem like the pregnancy was going to go to term, and if it did, the infant would not do well. I had the opportunity to be with her through nine months of pregnancy and we had some really difficult days. Eventually, her son graduated from high school, played college football, got married, and now has a baby of his own.”
Another mom Burton worked with was told, “due to a medical condition she needed to terminate the pregnancy. But this was not something the couple wanted to do. At risk, she went full-term. I worked with them every step of the way. Her son has also graduated from high school and works in fashion design in New York.”
“I don’t know of any other program like the NMCRS visiting nurse program. Having this opportunity to actually get in and interact with people and be involved in their lives and with their families has been a blessing for me, as well as having a more flexible work schedule that has allowed me to raise two sons who are now 35 and 40 years old. When someone stays with a job as long as I have, you know there must be something great there.”