Editor’s Note: Bette Smith declined an interview for this article, but that didn’t stop us from recognizing her. I spent a few hours chatting with Bette’s colleagues, managers and friends to hear their memories of working with such an incredible nurse who is retiring after 45 years of service with CCH.
Compassionate. Dedicated. Patient advocate. These words were mentioned by everyone who was interviewed about Bette Smith, RN, ICU.
“Bette is the embodiment of Excellence Every Day,” says Sherry Bailey, RN, ICU, who has worked with Bette for 24 years. “She cares immensely for her patients—in fact, it’s safe to say that she’s one of the most caring nurses that I have ever worked with.”
Sherry said Bette taught her what a nurse should be to their patients and what kind of person you need to be in order to be a great nurse. She’s done that for many.
“I began my career at CCMH in 1990, and Bette oriented me as a nurse in the ICU. Previously, I had worked in the ICU at DePaul Hospital in Cheyenne, but Bette made it clear that I had to prove myself in her department and was very protective of her patients,” says Jonni Belden, Pioneer Manor Administrator. “I learned a lot from Bette—as a coworker, as her manager and as a peer. Whether she was the nurse working beside you, or your manager, you could always count on her. There was nothing she would ask you to do that she wouldn’t do herself.”
According to a News-Record clipping from January 17, 1963 (that Bette’s staff has managed to stash away), Bette graduated with the class of 1962 from the Montana State College, School of Nursing in Billings on Dec. 13. She came to work for the hospital in 1963, left in the late 70s, and returned in 1984.
In short, Bette Smith has been a nurse for more than 50 years, and 45 of those years has been spent with Campbell County Health. She began her career at the hospital when nurses worked in every department—from the OR to Labor and Delivery—and was the director of nursing for some time; but she also worked in a clinic setting as well.
“She’s a nurse leader,” says Sue Howard, Clinical Education Supervisor. “Bette hired me in February 1978 when she was the director of nursing at the old hospital. There were few RNs in building at the time and nurses worked in every department at once. Bette taught me that patient-centered care is of utmost importance.”
Others commented on how much Bette loves Christmas—decorating multiple trees in her home and entertaining friends and family there. Some told stories of Bette driving around Gillette with the top down on her car and rock music blaring were also shared—it sounds like she spent some time creating a little havoc. And then there were stories of tender moments with patients.
“I remember a young patient who was critically ill and needed transferred to Denver,” says Jonni. “The weather was bad and she and I spent a lot of time in the room. When she thought no one was looking, she stroked the patients cheek and said, ‘I will be here, don't worry.’ I always knew her heart, cracked her shell, hugged her when she didn't want it and treasured her. I am proud to call her my mentor and friend.”
Bette also taught staff at CCH to never be too old or experienced to learn something new. “She’s very techy,” says Karen Clarke, Community Relations manager. “When we rolled out Staffnet (CCH’s internal website), Bette was the first person to contact our department to get a page up for the ICU, and was already thinking ahead to how her staff could use it.”
As you can see, for many it will be hard not to see Bette in the halls of the hospital as they lose a leader, a mentor and a friend.
“I’ll miss her not being there to provide true, honest feedback. I’ll miss her knowledge of nursing and healthcare, as well as her vast knowledge of the hospital,” says Sherry, choking up a little. “I’m going to miss my friend.”
Thank you, Bette for your knowledge, your experience, your commitment to excellence in nursing, and your dedication to the Campbell County community. We are truly grateful for the care you gave your patients.
Bette’s last day at CCH will be January 16, 2015.