Paper names Jennifer Gallagher, R.N., (and other WMC nurses) one of Wyoming’s top nurses
By Kristy Bleizeffer May 8, 2017
You could say Jennifer Gallagher, R.N., grew up at Wyoming Medical Center. She was born here. Her mother worked here, and she started working here while she was still in high school, on Feb. 22, 1992. She gave birth to her two sons with some of the people she now calls colleagues.
But when she started her 25-year career here on Feb. 22, 1992, Jennifer didn’t see herself as a nurse: “God never told me that was what the plan was. I was not the little girl at 5 years old who just knew I was going to be a nurse.”
Well, look at her now.
The Casper Star-Tribune on Sunday named Gallagher one of Wyoming’s top three nurses in its special section, “Celebrate Nurses.” The newspaper selects the winners based on community nominations and a panel of newspaper staff and healthcare professionals pick the winners. All three of the top nurses are from Wyoming Medical Center. (Look for interviews with Sarita Reeves and Rachelle Donaldson in the coming days in honor of National Nurses Week 2017.)
Gallagher started her WMC career washing dishes in the kitchen. She is now the education coordinator for obstetrics in the Ruth R. Ellbogen Family, Mother and Baby Center. She describes her long and varied career in the interview below.
How old were you when you started at Wyoming Medical Center?
I was 17 and in high school. I got hired to wash dishes in the kitchen under Anna Marie Moser. She is still here also. She is a dietician, now, but back then, she intimidated me.
Because she was so put together and so professional, and she was my boss. That was in the old kitchen and the old hospital.
At that time did you want to go into health care?
No. At the time, my mom was working at the hospital. She said that this would work really well with school and it might be what you want to do. I said that was great, but I did not want to be a nurse.
Why not a nurse?
God never told me that was what the plan was. I was not the little girl at 5 years old who just knew I was going to be a nurse.
So, I worked evenings and weekends, and it worked great with my schedule. By the time I graduated high school, when I thought about what I was going to do, I was going to be a nurse. That’s just what happened.
It was all God. He just told me that it was what I was going to do. At that time, I did not know that was who was telling me that. I do not question it. I just started my prerequisites in health care because I knew I had to do something in medicine. I then applied to nursing school and went to nursing school. It’s been a smooth 25 years for me.
Where else have you worked at WMC?
I graduated high school in 1993, and started nursing school at Casper College. So, while I was taking classes, I worked in the dietary department and in the operating room off and on. In the OR, I was a transport aid. That was before the operating room had CNAs. Transports helped to bring the patients, turn over rooms, that kind of thing. I think that was when I really fell in love with nursing, because I knew there were just so many opportunities.
I got my CNA license the first year of nursing school, and I went to work for Connie Buck on the surgical floor. I loved it. It made school easier as I was taking care of patients. After I graduated in 1998 from Casper College with my associate’s degree, then I had a job on the surgical floor as an RN.
I also worked as an Operating Room nurse, and worked with a lot of the same people and a lot of the same doctors that I had worked with as when I was an aide. That was fantastic. There was always a little piece of me that wanted to take care of moms and babies. I do not know where that came from, but I just gravitated towards that. I had an amazing instructor, Cheryl Rasper, who is a very seasoned labor nurse, and she was a big inspiration to me. I applied to OB like three times before I actually got hired because I did not have any experience in OB.
I can remember the exact place I was in my kitchen when that phone call came in and (OB manager) Kristi Keller called and offered me that job. It was amazing. Then I was sad because I had to leave the operating room.
I’ve been in OB now for 15 years. I cannot believe that I have been here for that long.
What do you like about nursing?
One of my favorite things about nursing in general is the amount of patient education that comes along with it. One of the things that I learned in nursing school was that discharge education starts on admission and is just an ongoing education process.
I really enjoy the families, and that is why OB is so great. There is so much education involved. I really believe in making people successful on their journeys. Regardless of where I go, if we can give patients the tools to be successful after they leave the hospital, we have better outcomes. That is true for patients as well as for my nurses. I am very protective of them. That is why I love this education job: I love to see the nurses here be successful. I love to see them conquer challenges and to give them the tools to succeed. If they are successful, patients will be successful with good outcomes.
What is the favorite part of your day?
There are so many. I can tell you that in almost 20 years, in all honesty, I do not remember one day waking up and questioning what I was doing or why I was going to work. I do question when my alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m. I do wonder why my feet hurt at 7 p.m., but I never question what I do. That is what I love most about it. I just know where I am supposed to be. I love interacting with the families, and the little siblings are my favorite. I love watching them learn about the gift of a sibling.
I like the challenges too, and I really, really like a good challenge that has a good outcome. It is taxing when the outcome is not good.
I’ve caught a few babies when a doctor has not been there. When a baby comes fast and the doctor does not have time to get there, I have never seen a complication with that. I am not saying it will not happen, but typically when a baby comes out fast they do just fine, it was just ready before we are. I love that kind of stuff. I love the little bit of adrenalin rushes you get when a mom comes in huffing and puffing. We had a mom deliver in a wheelchair, through her pants one time, and we have had a mom deliver in the elevator.
My favorite part of my job, encompassing it all together, is now I get to do surgery and labor and delivery together since we have our own C-section suite. Now I get to do it all.
How does it feel to be nominated, and then chosen, for this honor?
It is exceptionally humbling. When Kristi (Keller) called to let me know, I felt very honored and undeserving only because I give all the credit of everything I do to God. I feel like I am simply a vehicle in which he uses me to do what needs to be done. Whether that is teaching nurses how to do their jobs, or taking care of the patients, or facilitating processes of safety; whatever it is, he gets all the glory. He put me on this path.
There was a time, I was talking with my mom about a really difficult challenge we had. I told her that I didn’t understand why it feels like I am always there for the tough cases. She just looked at me and said, "That is because this is what God intended for you to do, that is why you are there. Do not question it.” Since then, I have had such peace and do not ask ‘why?’
What is the biggest challenge in your job?
To be real, the hardest part is when you lose a baby. I have not lost a mom in my career, but I know it happens. I would not be doing what I was doing without the support of the staff and my boss and everybody else that we work with. It is not a one-man team. That is the one thing I remind the nurses all the time: Nobody does this by themselves. If we all bring a little bit to the table, then we are a family.