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Nurse reflects on 53 years at the bedside as she retires

Nurse reflects on 53 years at the bedside as she retires
On June 1, 1970, Richard Nixon was president, gasoline cost 36 cents per gallon, you still had to be 21 to vote in an election and Karen Guymon, RN, began her nursing career at Carle Foundation Hospital.

“Oh, my goodness, things were different then,” Guymon said. “It was interesting to watch the evolution.”
In the beginning she wore all white, a dress and a cap. Paging wasn’t available. Guymon worked nights and remembers checking on her patients using a flashlight; there wasn’t technology to alert them if a patient had arrested.

She worked in a lot of different areas because most of her time was spent in the float pool, and float nurses filled in where help was needed at the time. She enjoyed the variety of work she did being in float, and that and working part-time helped her sustain her long career. She was a night supervisor for a while and leadership wanted her to do that full-time, but she opted not to. “I got to see a different side of nursing, you know, different responsibilities,” she said. “I’m glad I did it. But being at the bedside has always been my first love.”

Guymon is one of five team members who currently have worked at Carle Health for 50-plus years. Some people have said it’s unusual not just for a nurse to work that long at one hospital, but to spend most of their career at the bedside. Guymon said she struck a balance between family and work and had a stable life. Carle, she said, has been a good place to work and listened to its employees.

“I always worked part-time for the most part. I didn’t really get burned out like you might with a full-time job. That is the key, striking a balance and not getting burned out.”

Family will be a big part of her life in retirement too. Right now, she is “sorting through 49 years of accumulation” preparing to move to a new home. Her husband, daughter, son-in-law and grandson are going with her.

“We’re all going to coincide here together and be happy as little larks.  I look forward to that,” she said.

Another daughter, Kara Gehrt, also works at CFH in the Lab and seems to be following her mother’s lead in longevity. Gehrt already has a 30 year brick in the CFH Loyalty Courtyard.

Looking back, Guymon is proud of sticking it out for so long.

“I guess after a while it kind of becomes a part of you. It’s what you do. It’s what you know. You really learn when you’re in this profession to develop a lot of sympathy and understanding and to listen to people.”

Her supervisor, Samantha Bishop, RN manager, Carle Internal Agency, said she feels Guymon has struggled with leaving Carle because it is so much a part of her life.

“I only had the pleasure of working with Karen for two out of her 53 years here but she was always so positive and willing to come in and help. She always made Carle a priority,” Bishop said. “She truly cares about the patients in her care and gives them the time and attention they deserve.”

Therese Leti, RN, Carle Internal Agency, worked with Guymon since 2006. She distinctly recalls when Guymon, being her cheery self, walked into an area and greeted a group of nurses discussing their feelings of being overwhelmed. The discussion ceased just by her presence.

“I cannot forget that moment. She is so positive and upbeat, setting an example and providing direction when needed. She is the lighthouse,” Leti said. Leti even gave a painting she did of a lighthouse to Guymon as an expression of appreciation.

Guymon said the focus absolutely should be on the patient. “My attitude is when I go into that patient’s room it’s all about them. Listen to them, give them as much of what they want as you can and that’s it. People are easy to get along with if you just be kind and courteous and respectful.”

June 9 marks Guymon’s last day. Colleagues celebrated her remarkable career at an open house on June 8.

Categories: Culture of Quality, Community

Tags: Careers, Carle, Champaign-Urbana, Foundation, Hospital, Nursing