Altru honors former Grand Forks nurse turned healthcare policymaker
Mary Wakefield's lifelong interest in health propelled her to the top of a federal healthcare agency. What she has accomplished as administrator of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration and as a former practicing nurse, UND profes...
Mary Wakefield's lifelong interest in health propelled her to the top of a federal healthcare agency.
What she has accomplished as administrator of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration and as a former practicing nurse, UND professor and director of UND's Center for Rural Health earned her special recogni-tion Tuesday morning from Altru Health System.
The Devils Lake native became the 21st person inducted into the Nursing Hall of Fame, an annual award the hos-pital gives to nurses for their dedication and contribution to the profession, according to Altru Chief Nurse Margaret Reed.
Despite her numerous regional and national contributions, Wakefield said the award shouldn't recognize just her efforts but the work of the nearly 600 registered nurses working at Altru as well.
"This is all about the Altru nurses," she told the Herald on Monday. "There are a hundred other nurses in the building that deserve this award. I'm just taking one for the team."
At the start
The early-morning award ceremony at Altru brought Wakefield back to the site of her first job as a registered nurse.
In 1976, the facility was called United Hospital, but Wakefield can remember ripping open the enveloping con-taining the passing results of her licensing exam in a hallway.
"There was a great team of nurses here," she said of her former coworkers, including Reed, who started at the hospital the same year. Reed received the Hall of Fame Award in 2008.
The award coincides with the hospital's annual celebration of National Nurses Week, which began Monday and ends Sunday. The week recognizes the work of the nation's 2.8 million nurses and the differences they make in their patients' lives, according to Wakefield.
While her first nursing job was in Grand Forks, Wakefield's first foray into healthcare came in high school. She spent her evenings as a nurse's aide, caring for patients at a nursing home and a hospital nursery in Devils Lake.
"Some nights I would have back-to-back shifts," Wakefield said. "I'd see the oldest and youngest in need of care."
While she says she'll always be a nurse, Wakefield's current position keeps her from practicing.
She said she misses caring for patients, but nursing prepared her well for her administrator position.
"It wasn't a stretch," Wakefield said of the jump from nursing to health policy. She still has the opportunity to make a difference like fellow nurses, just on a larger scale.
"As a nurse, you can affect six patients a shift, maybe about 1,000 in a year. In health policy, you can affect the health of millions," she said.
Scrubs are no longer Wakefield's work uniform, but nursing still has an impact on how she does her job.
One example is educating people on a national level about taking steps to prevent illnesses. As someone who was once on the frontlines of healthcare, Wakefield knows these steps can save lives.
"Prevention services are very important and, as a nurse, you don't have to tell me twice," she said.
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