Nurse of the yearPublished 8:13pm Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Award for excellency launches National Nurses Week
“People ask me ‘How do I do this?’ I tell them all you got to do is come to work with me for two weeks and you’ll find out,” Debbie Deal says then pauses. She has a face made for laughter, but at the moment, it’s drawn in serious lines.
“There’s something different about cancer patients. They really want to live.”
For 34 years, Deal has been a familiar face at the Washington hospital — the last 18 of those at the Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center. She’s lovingly (and laughingly) referred to as the sheriff of the cancer center, and when Kathy Simpson, Vidant Beaufort Hospital’s vice president for patient-care services, called Deal forward to receive the hospital’s highest award for nursing this week, that’s exactly what Simpson called her: “Sheriff, would you please come up here?”
The ceremony took place in the hospital dining hall Monday, where “as many nurses as could get away” gathered to recognize Deal, Simpson said. It was unflagging dedication to her work and her patients that earned Deal the Juanita Jackson Award for Nursing Excellence, an award named after a nursing supervisor who was, by all accounts, equal parts taskmaster and cheerleader for her staff for 38 years.
“She epitomizes what the award is for,” said Simpson of Deal’s service. Simpson should know, both she and Deal started their nursing careers under Jackson.
For Deal, that career started early. She hadn’t yet graduated from Washington High School before she was leaving at lunchtime every day to work as a nursing assistant at the hospital. After graduation, Deal went through the LPN program at Beaufort County Community College, and she later requested a one-time only class that would allow LPN graduates of BCCC to make the transition to RNs. The request was granted.
“I was working full time, going to night school and clinics on the weekends,” Deal said. “But you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing. I love my job. I have met the most inspiring people.”
According to Simpson, only true passion for the job keeps a nurse from burning out and Deal has that passion in spades, taking patient care to a higher level.
“You’ve got to have laughter. … Part of our treatment plan is we spoil them and send them home,” Deal said. “Whatever it takes to get my patients through their day.”
That includes working hard, and playing hard, as well, Deal said. So she dances. She cracks jokes. She refers to her patients at the cancer center as “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.” She has boosted the spirits of hundreds battling cancer, nursed her husband through his own illness, weathered the many technological advances required in her ever-changing job, and still was surprised to receive the award, Simpson said.
“It was a very emotional day,” Deal said.