The Long Goodbye: From the laundry department to our Chief Nursing Officer, Julie Cann-Taylor retires after 43 years
By Kristy Bleizeffer Mar 20, 2015
To the young nurse, summoned to the top floor of the hospital’s parking garage, it looked a little like a meeting of mafia bosses: The CEO and the ICU’s medical director smoked cigarettes as they waited for her, each wearing long coats and gloves. Julie Cann-Taylor didn’t know what they wanted. The ICU charge nurse had never been to the garage’s top floor, and she didn’t understand the politics of hospital administration.
The men asked her to be the new ICU manager. She accepted, but wondered what she’d gotten herself into: Would she be expected to sneak to the garage and smoke cigarettes for every meeting with hospital higher ups?
Managing the ICU was Cann-Taylor’s first of many management positions at Wyoming Medical Center in a career that stretched over four decades. She developed her leadership style in the ICU, interviewing staff to find out what they wanted in their leader. She did the same thing when she became chief nursing officer and again when she became the hospital’s second in command.
“I have had more opportunities here than I probably could have had anywhere else, because things happened and the sky opened. So I jumped,” she said. “I really never had a solid plan. I just took advantage of what was coming.”
Cann-Taylor’s career began in the hospital’s laundry department 43 years ago. She retires March 31 as our Chief Nursing Officer and Senior Vice President of Patient Care Services. Her big plans for April 1? Sleeping until 7:30 a.m. In this interview, Cann-Taylor talks about rising through the ranks, developing future leaders and why she is optimistic about the future of Casper’s only community hospital.
Did you grow up in Casper?
I actually was a transplant here. We moved here from Minnesota my senior year in high school. I did not want to come here, not at all. In fact, my mother and father said there are still heel prints across South Dakota. I have seven brothers and sisters. I only did my senior year at Kelly Walsh, then my father was transferred back to Washington, D.C. He worked for the Department of Agriculture in Washington.
I ended up staying here and going to Casper College. I tell everybody that my father left kids all over the United States. My older sister was in college in Minnesota, I was in Wyoming, and I have a brother in Las Vegas. I have a brother in Denver. I have a brother in Seattle. I have a sister in South Bend, and I have a brother in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Why did you stay?
Because I ended up meeting my first husband.
Tell me about your first job at Wyoming Medical Center.
My first job was in the laundry, thinking it would be summer work. Then, Mrs. Harland, who was an RN (registered nurse) in the nursing office, looked at me one day and said, “You know what, you should be a CNA (certified nurses’ assistant).” I said okay because I did not know any better. There was no real health care in my family at that time. They had CNA classes right here at the hospital. They were on the third floor of the east building that we’ve since tore down.
What year would this have been?
I started here in 1972, so this would have been in 1973.
I took the CNA class, and my first job was on the psych ward. I fell in love with the patients down there. It was really interesting. I knew that it was my calling right then and there. I worked as a CNA there for a few years.
What did you love so much?
I think it was just the interactions with the patients. I loved caring for people. I saw what the nurses did there, and I was totally impressed. We did not have the cream-of-the earth there. We had a lot of alcoholics. At that time they could still smoke in their rooms. I remember one night we had a patient that actually lit his bed on fire as he was smoking in bed. He dropped his cigarette. We went in there and ended having to put the fire out. That was when there was myself as an aide and one RN on the psych ward with 20 to 30 patients.
Oh my gosh, things have changed.
Absolutely. So that was one of my vivid memories of having to put out the patient and move him to the ICU. Having a fire right in the room. Then, I decided to go to nursing school. I graduated in 1977 with an ADN (associate’s degree in nursing) from Casper College.
By then I had changed my job from a CNA to a unit secretary in the ICU. I learned more about nursing. The ICU nursing, and the people I met here, and the nurses I saw just made me want to be that type of a nurse. I went to nursing school and then joined the float pool. After about a year, the director of nursing called me down to her office and said, “Do you know we are short of ICU nurses?”
I absolutely loved working in the ICU. We then had one RN and two LPNs (licensed practical nurses) for 11 patients. That was when we had to count drips on IVs to make sure that they were at the right rate. The RN gave all the medications, started all the IVs and did all that stuff, and the two LPNs did the patient care, treatments and all that stuff. It was a totally different type of nursing. It is what we call “team nursing.”
Why did you want to be in the ICU?
I just saw such potential on the ICU for me to learn more and more. Dr. Wesley Hiser was here at the time and he was such a progressive physician. He brought so much to the table. He basically brought the Cardiac Cath Lab, and we went from treating MIs (myocardial infarctions) by giving medication to stop the pain, to actually preventing the heart attacks in the first place. I got to see all that progress to where we help people significantly. We flew in our first balloon pump at that time. I actually took care of the first open-heart surgery that was ever done in Casper. The patient stayed in the ICU for seven days, now they stay 24 hours. I have seen so much change and so many progressive things going on. I never quit learning in the ICU.
How long were you there?
I stayed in the ICU until I went into management close to 1990. I had both of my boys while I was working in the ICU. I then went back and got my BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing), and then I took a manager’s position in the ICU.
I absolutely loved what I did. I saw so many changes. I still worked the bedside quite a bit at that particular time. Then, I went back to school and I took a job working for a new department that Wyoming Medical Center created, called Health Networks, doing statewide education. I would drive around the state and give education to the smaller community hospitals on how to treat MIs (heart attacks).
I did that for about two years, and it was great. Then, traveling and having teenagers got too wild, so I came back and became director of critical care, overseeing the PCU and ICU. That was when Pam Fulks was the CNO (chief nursing officer) and later the CEO. After Pam left, and Vickie Diamond had come, I started working on my master’s degree, because Vickie is such an encourager for that. I think I graduated with my master’s in 2004.
How old were you then?
I was 52. Then, I applied for the CNO job, and here I am.
Why did you want to continue your education at that age?
I think that Vickie was the person I looked up to. I liked the leader that she was, and I wanted to make sure that I could spend the last part of my time doing something that I thought made a difference.
Why did you want to step up into management?
I think that if we would have had clinical ladder opportunities at that time, I probably would not have gone into management as I loved bedside nursing.
But when the first management opportunity came open, I was newly divorced and my kids were pretty small. Tim Renz, who was my boss at the time, encouraged me to put in for the job. It was a spur of the moment deal. I have had more opportunities here than I probably could have had anywhere else, because things happened and the sky opened so I jumped. I really never had a solid plan. I just took advantages of what was coming.
Do you think there are opportunities still at Wyoming Medical Center for young people to rise through the ranks?
Absolutely. We are really trying to recognize transferable skills, because management is management no matter where you are. I think that if people do go out and have a dream, we have to look at the whole person.
In the past, we have had a lot of manager positions opened and we have not had many people who have wanted to step up to them. I do know that we are going to leadership classes. This then sets you up when a job comes open you can apply.
Why did you stay at Wyoming Medical Center for 43 years?
That is a very good question. It is not like I have not been disillusioned at times. I have been. I think the reason I stayed is because of the people. I have worked with some people who have really inspired me. The way that Wyoming Medical Center pulls together in crisis situations is totally amazing to me.
Sometimes, I think, when I got to the point where, “Oh my God, I cannot do this one more day,” something inspiring would happen.
Even my son who started working here has inspired me. Sam was a car salesman, and he was doing fairly well, and he came to me and said, “I think I want to go into nursing. I think I want to go back to school.”
I looked at him and I said, “You know what Sam, you cannot be a nurse unless you have the heart of a nurse. You have to love what you are doing. I do not suggest you do this unless you want to come back for $12 an hour and be a CNA for a year.” He quit his job, and he came in and was hired as a monitor tech and then became a CNA in the ICU. After a year, he went on to nursing school.
What advice and encouragement do you have for people who have just started out at Wyoming Medical Center?
What I tell people is they need to give something at least two years to decide whether it is right for them. When you start out in a new job, you are really excited and you think, “I got a new job and I am going to be the best at it.” That takes about six months to get over.
Then the realities set in and you are disillusioned. For nurses, you may be overwhelmed, think that the doctors are mean to you and, at about a year, you may think. “This is not for me.” But, if you can hang just a little longer, get competent at what you are doing, you may get to the point where you realize, “You know, I am a good nurse. I saved this person’s life. I know how to work with these doctors, and I can be one step ahead of them.” I feel bad for the people who give up at 18 months.
Have you seen a change in the role of women in health care over your career?
Absolutely. As a matter of fact, I do not even remember that for the first 20 years I worked here, who was the CEO and who was the CFO and what they did. That just did not have anything to do with me.
I think I started noticing when we had more women stepping up and seeing the difference in running a hospital when you really know what it is like to do patient care and really know that is your core business: taking care of patients. Vickie (Diamond, president and CEO) is a great inspiring leader. I am amazed at what she knows and how she looks at health care globally. She is probably a lot more strategic than I will ever be, but that is my job here is to make sure that the patient care is always heard at the top of the organization.
What is the biggest change in health care that you have noticed over 43 years?
I think the regulation. Some of it is good and some of it is not so good. It has gotten to the point where it is over-regulated where we are more worried about charting the right thing than we are worried about outcomes for patients. I think that some of it is good, because I think standardizing processes in all these kinds of things make better outcomes and better results for the patients.
How would you describe Wyoming Medical Center as a Casper institution? What do you think it stands for?
It is the second largest employer in the city. I do not think a lot of people realize how much we do here and how good it is to have this kind of hospital in your home town. When you live in small towns, and this kind of care is not available to you, a sick child in the middle of the night is a catastrophe.
I also think that we, as Wyoming Medical Center, have changed in the past few years ago. It was kind of a given, you come here, you live by our rules. I think we have changed our thought processes to say, “You are our community, what needs do we need to fulfill for you?” I think we are getting to that point and turning around and saying to our community, “Our purpose is serving you.”
Are you optimistic about the hospital’s future?
Absolutely. I just think we need to stay the course and provide the services that our community needs, and have the quality outcomes.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I would like to say that in some ways I am very sad, but in some ways I see the opportunity for new eyes to come in here. When you have been someplace for 43 years, you get kind of tunnel vision. I see the opportunity for people to come in see something different and even make this place better.