By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
Cheryl Mills remembers her mom leaving the house in the early morning before the sun had risen. “When she was a nurse, nurses wore white and those little hats,” Mills recalled. “I would watch her walk to her car and thought she glowed like an angel. People in the community would always say what a great nurse she was. She still nurses everybody whether she is working or not.”
That role model influenced Mills’ decision to go into nursing. “My first patient assignment in nursing school was to care for a young man who had been involved in a motorcycle accident and lost the use of his body from the waist down,” she recalled. “I remember thinking, ‘how am I going to go into this room, as a mom, thinking about how fragile life is? How will I treat this person and not bawl my eyes out during this assignment?’ I went to my instructor looking for composure and direction. Her remarks were simply, ‘treat him like he’s one of your own.’ It was what I needed to hear. And have instilled into my practice every day. I don’t think any nurse can take care of someone else’s child or someone else without thinking about how they would want their family member taken care of. That makes caring so much easier. So in my heart, I just quietly adopt each and every one for a short while.”
Fortunately for her clients, Mills still carries this spirit of maternal love with her on every house call she makes as a traditional visiting nurse for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. For the past 15 years Mills has worked with families at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi—primarily new moms and babies, as well as a few adults.
“When I drive through the gates of the NAS Corpus Christi, it’s feels as if I have entered a whole new city.” Cheryl explained. “The military life was new to me on day one and I hit the ground running. I found something new to learn every day. Being married to a husband who has been a police officer for almost 30 years really helped pave my way.” Cheryl’s understanding of, and compassion for, her clients shapes every visit. She is always learning, from both her clients and her colleagues. “All of the nurses in the Society’s Visiting Nurse Program have so many different and interesting backgrounds. As a Visiting Nurse there are days when we are each challenged to pull from numerous resources. It is so comforting to have the use of modern technology in our hands. We are able to reach out to each other and to our patients in a way that relates to everyone.”
Before coming to the Society, Cheryl was working on a medical/surgical floor at a children’s hospital, caring for pediatric patients recovering from brain and orthopedic surgery. “As a new nurse, I found myself in the field of pediatrics. Little did I realize at the time how that would prepare me for the work I’m doing with the Society. Every part of our journey takes us forward.”
Although she loved her pediatric patients, Cheryl didn’t love the 12-hour shifts at the children’s hospital, which sometimes turned into 14- or 16-hour shifts. “It was really taking me away from my family,” she recalled. “I wanted to be more a part of their lives. So when I saw an ad for this job, which said, ‘if you’d like to be the kind of nurse you’ve always imagined and spend quality time with your patients, we’d like to meet you.’ I thought that’s exactly what I want to do!”
While her experience in pediatrics held her in good stead as a visiting nurse, Cheryl decided to extend her training by becoming an internationally board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) in 2004. “In nursing school you get a little bit of lactation education and new mom education,” Cheryl recalled. “[My colleague and I] felt at the time that in order to be better advocates for our clients, it would be best to become a lactation consultants. That would help the pediatricians and physicians we were working with to have more confidence in the Society’s visiting nurse role. I had to have 4,000 hours of hands-on experience working with moms as well as continuing education in the field of lactation. Once that certificate and title came along, it opened up new doors. It is an honor to have the docs ask for resources, make referrals, and sometimes, ask their own questions. When a physician calls you specifically and wants you to help this patient, you know you’re doing your job. Or when a mom says, ‘I gave your number to another mom.’ Our military community has confidence in us.”
Congratulations to Cheryl Mills on 15 years of dedicated service to the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and for your care for thousands of moms and babies.