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Nurse for 35 years takes special care with new moms

Jessie Greer shares a laugh with co-workers at ParkView Regional Medical Center. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[05/07/01] For 35 years, Jessie Greer has occupied the same spot and it’s the perfect place for her. From behind the nursing station on the new mothers’ wing of ParkView Regional Medical Center’s fourth floor, she can cheer other nurses and doctors and patients.

“They pester me,” she said in mock annoyance as another nurse walked by and gave “Miss Jessie” a hard time.

At 64, Greer laughed last week about her long-term vocation and some ribbing from a co-worker.

“She said I’ve been here since the first brick was laid. I said, Not that long,'” she said, laughing. “But almost.”

Laughter and teasing are what get Greer through the day and endear her to the staff and patients. She’s legendary at ParkView, maintaining her duties as cycles of owners and generations of physicians and patients have come and gone.

“I don’t like being cooped up,” she said. So she doesn’t stay at the nurses’ station long. Indeed, while being interviewed, she constantly moved from the computer to the phone to a patient’s room to deliver the daily paper or a pill.

“I like being around people and giving the daddies a hard time,” she said, chuckling again. “I laugh at the daddies. They’re funny telling me they’re gonna miss me.”

To that end, she often is showered with cards, gifts and flowers from appreciative patients who have been under her care and their families.

It happens often: A husband and wife stop her to say thank you. “You helped my mom when I was born, now my son has a baby back there,” a new grandmother said last week.

“That goes on and on,” Greer said after the couple left. “From the mom having a child to that child having a child, and even that child having one,” she said.

For nurses these days, Greer is a rarity. As fewer choose to enter nursing as a profession, the country is faced with a shortage of care givers in hospitals, nursing homes and home health care agencies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an additional 800,000 registered nurses are needed by the year 2005 to meet the nation’s needs at a time when enrollment is down at the nation’s nursing schools.

“In Mississippi, it’s not as extensive as other states, but we’re gonna have some problems,” said Betty Dickson, executive director of the Mississippi Nursing Association.

The average age of a nurse in Mississippi is 42, and the average age of faculty is 50, Dickson said.

“We have a pending shortage,” she said.

Budget cuts, retirement and better salaries in nearby states are shrinking the pool of available nurses even more.

“If you look at all of that, we’re gonna have a problem,” she said. “The word is out that nursing is a pretty tough job. Years ago, it was the only field women could go into. It’s not that way today. We have to attract them with better salary and working conditions.”

For Greer, nursing was a childhood dream. “I was playing nurse when I was 7,” she said. But poverty, marriage and children put that ambition on hold.

“I was grown and married with three kids when I went (to nursing school). We were poor, but I was still determined to go.”

Yet when she applied for nursing classes at Hinds Community College, she was told there wasn’t room. “There weren’t any spots available at school,” she said. So she simply convinced the administration to let her in.

“The world’s a better place for it,” said Stacey Herring, a recent graduate from Hinds who has worked alongside Greer for the past year. “She’s good at what she does.”

Greer spends her shift visiting with patients, assessing their needs and making sure she answers the many questions the new moms have about caring for their infants, as well as handling affairs at the front desk. As an LPN, or licensed practical nurse, she no longer handles labor and delivery as she did during her first 25 years.

“When I trained, you worked as a registered nurse cause you did everything IV’s, caesareans, everything. The state board changed that,” she said.

She also remembers how different the world was when she earned her degree in 1964. “Black students sat in the back behind a glass wall,” she said, recalling the days of segregated classrooms, cafeterias and hospitals. But when it came to treating patients, the color of skin wasn’t important she cared for them all.

“Some days it’s so nice and you enjoy doing it. Other days, it’s so stressful, you want to pull your hair out. I just run my mouth and keep on going,” Greer said.