Dana Rainwater (right)
Sonja Anderson (left)
Darlene Rainwater (in photograph)
The reason aspiring nurses choose to attend St. Elizabeth School of Nursing spans several different areas. For some, it’s the vast clinical experiences that appeals to them. For others, it’s the holistic curriculum to prepare them for the real world. But for sisters Dana Rainwater and Sonja Anderson, it was about continuing a family legacy.
The two grew up in Boswell, Indiana where they watched their mother, Darlene Rainwater, provide compassionate care both as a nurse at local hospitals and around the neighborhood for anyone who needed assistance. With their father serving as a paramedic, the sisters gained a lot of exposure to the medical field and learned the importance of caring for those around them from a very early age.
Darlene graduated from St. Elizabeth School of Nursing in 1985 and ended her career right where she started as an assistant professor of nursing at St. Elizabeth. She taught endocrinology and pathophysiology courses, introductory classes for freshmen and served as a clinical instructor all by the time she retired. Wanting to follow in their mother’s footsteps, Sonja and Dana attended St. Elizabeth School of Nursing, graduating in 2011 and 2019, respectively. While Darlene passed away in April of 2015, her daughters are continuing her legacy of serving those in their community through their work as nurses. Sonja is a triage nurse at Franciscan Hospice Care Lafayette while Dana is a staff nurse at Franciscan Health Lafayette East.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A NURSE?
Dana: I had been a preschool teacher for about nine years before the daycare where I worked closed. I was left without any kind of skill set. One day I was talking to my mom about it and she asked, “What's the one thing you’ve always been interested in that you want to go after?” And I said, “The only thing I’ve ever really been interested in is medicine and the medical field.” I’ve always felt drawn to nursing. I had attended St. E back when I was 19, but I just wasn’t ready for college. So, I decided to go back after the daycare closed to give it another shot.
Sonja: Mostly because of my mom. She actually worked at the school of nursing. I've always liked learning about how things tick and what makes them work, especially the human body; it always just seemed to make sense out of all the subjects I ever learned. That was the one that just seemed to click.
DID YOUR MOM'S DECISION TO BECOME A NURSE OR GO TO ST. ELIZABETH SCHOOL OF NURSING INSPIRE YOU?
Dana: Of course. She loved nursing and I think that that was infectious. Even after she retired when she was homebound and I was helping to take care of her, she would dream about being on clinical every night. Her love of people and her love of nursing and her passion for it really affected me. When I first started school, I thought I loved nursing because she did. And the more I learn and the more I find out what nursing is, the more I fall in love with it myself. I feel like she understood that better than anybody else, so I miss her a lot in these most recent days.
Sonja: Oh, yeah. I always wanted to be like my mom. I always thought that she was just the smartest woman I've ever met. She had answers to everything and was always full of good advice. She was a very strong woman. And growing up, I always remember seeing St. E things all over the house. I don’t think there was any question that I’d end up at St. E.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST MEMORY FROM NURSING SCHOOL?
Dana: In general, it was all the students that I got to be around all the time. Being in school, you're around them more than you're around your natural family most of the time. We were quite a small group, so we were pretty tight-knit. Everybody seemed to get along really well and learn off of each other. I just loved the people.
Sonja: My best memory was the friends that I made. And not that the homework was the best, but what seemed like pointless homework actually helped me prepare for the outside world. I couldn't wait to be done with care plans and care maps and those actually have been very beneficial.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO NEW NURSES?
Dana: It's okay not to know everything. I'm learning every day that there's so much to know and they can't cover everything in your time in nursing school. And so you might come out of nursing school thinking you’re ready, and it's okay when you find out that might not be. Just give yourself grace.
Sonja: Ask lots and lots of questions. Learn as much as you can from the seasoned nurses. Most of all, remember that you've gotten the best training and St. E has set you up for success. Just be kind to yourself. You'll become as great as the nurse that you're inspiring to be, so be patient and don't beat yourself up because it feels like you don't know everything.
HOW DID ST. ELIZABETH SCHOOL OF NURSING PREPARE YOU FOR YOUR CAREER?
Dana: I think they did really well! You start out from the beginning doing clinicals and I still fall back on things that I learned from my first year all the way to my last year. There will be moments when I'm on the floor and I'm working with someone and I'll remember something that an instructor told me. I remember even sitting down for boards and taking the test and thinking "this really isn't any different from the tests I took in school." I think that they do really well to get you ready, not just for the test taking but for the real-life experiences that you have on the unit, too.
Sonja: Greatly. I mean, there's just no question about it. The homework, the types of tests, the ways of taking the test, all of these set me up well for taking the NCLEX. Not to mention the instructors, just the time they take to sit down with you. When my mom passed away, there was an instructor that stepped right up and became almost like a surrogate mother to me. She did a lot of the pushing and encouraging, and helped build my confidence to finish school.
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR CURRENT ROLE?
Dana: As a staff nurse, I do quite a bit for the patients. Besides passing meds and things like that, there’s also holistic care, so making sure patients have what they need even after discharge to be able to go home. And just working together with the different interdisciplinary teams for the best outcome for the patient. But I do a little bit of everything.
Sonja: I've transitioned from being a case manager to being a triage nurse. Right now, I am triaging a lot of phone calls to ensure they get transferred appropriately which includes getting a hold of coworkers to let them know their patients are asking for help or contacting the pharmacy and letting them know medications need made for pick up. I do some computer work, I audit charts to make sure that care plans are effective and pain assessments have been done and charted.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT YOUR CURRENT JOB?
Dana: I like all the things that I'm learning and I do like the patient interaction a lot. I was really scared when I began, so something that I love about where I am currently is that the hospital doesn’t just toss you in there, they ease you in as you’re comfortable. There's somebody there all the time if you need it. And then if you feel comfortable, they’ll step out. They're just really supportive, very patient and willing to teach.
Sonja: Hands down, the team. My team is just amazing. I couldn't have asked for a better boss. The supervisor, all my co-workers, the social workers, it's one big family. Every one of us is willing to do what we can to help the other out. It's been a long time since I've had such great teamwork.
WHAT IS THE TOUGHEST PART ABOUT BEING A NURSE?
Dana: Fitting everything in. I think what’s hard is when you are trying to get all your responsibilities done, all of the charting and care, I can see how it would be easy for a patient to get lost in the shuffle. That's something I want to work on, being better about not focusing just on the skills or tasks but focusing on the person at the same time. So meeting them where they're at and helping them in the ways they need that you can't really see on paper.
Sonja: When I was a case manager, the toughest thing for me was having to tell a friend or a family member that their loved one is dying, about to die or going through their end of life. Trying to maintain composure when inside I want to cry with them is hard. I have shed tears, it's not a not a bad thing to shed tears.
SONJA, DID YOU ALWAYS SEE YOURSELF WORKING IN END OF LIFE CARE?
Sonja: No! If somebody would have told me five years ago that I would be involved in end of life care, I would have probably laughed. But I have always seemed to be drawn to the elderly population. We spent a lot of after school days and lots of summer vacations with my grandparents so that my parents could work. I don’t know if that's why I was drawn to that population, but I do seem to keep working with the long-term care facilities.
HOW DO YOU SEE YOURSELF THROUGH THE LENS OF THE SCHOOL'S MISSION... CONTINUING CHRIST'S HEALING MINISTRY?
Dana: My focus on the person rather than the fact that they’re a patient is one way I try to continue Christ’s healing ministry. “God's economy is in people” is something that my pastor always says, so you have to focus on the heart of the person and remember that they're an individual. Treating them with the same dignity and respect that you would want if they were your family member or if it was you yourself.
Sonja: The Bible says Christ is the way, the truth and the life and there's no way into heaven except through Him. His truths were not always warm and fuzzy, and in this job, family expects the truth. So, with hospice, the truth can be very blunt and very sad. And even though it is one or the other or a combination of those, families are very appreciative that I am up front and honest. They like to be able to know what's coming to help them process and grieve.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE NOT AT WORK?
Dana: Right now, I just relax. I like reading a lot, I love going to the movies and I meet up with friends when I can. I’ve recently been doing paint-by-numbers while I listen to podcasts and that really seems to help me unwind after a long day!
Sonja: I like to spend time with my husband of 22 years, Mike. My two oldest daughters, Kelsey and Brittany, are grown so it's great when I get a chance to see them because I get to see my grandsons as well. And of course hanging out with my son, Levi, who lives at home with us. Our favorite TV show to watch together is M*A*S*H. When I'm not hanging out with them, I like to craft and make greeting cards!
IF YOU WEREN'T A NURSE, WHAT WOULD YOU BE?
Dana: That’s a hard question! I guess if I had to pick something, I’d go after being a writer. I enjoy historical fiction and fantasy.
Sonja: More than likely something in emergency medical services. I was an EMT for 10 years, including throughout school. So if I wasn’t a nurse, I’m sure I would have moved on to become a paramedic.