Our Nurses Know: Dedication
For Gretel Quitmeyer, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Since her arrival at Michigan Medicine in 1975, new hospital buildings have opened, the organization’s leadership structure has changed, medications administered to patients have improved … and yes, there are new inventions called computers that have transformed health care in every way.
“I’ve seen so many enhancements in technology and changes in society since I began,” said Gretel, who is the director of clinical nursing in the hematology-oncology unit at Mott, a position she has held since the late 1980s. “But two things have stayed the same over the years: The fantastic people I work with and the focus everyone here puts on patients and families. That has made it easy to come to work every day for 42 years.”
Gretel graduated with a bachelor’s degree from U-M in 1975 and was immediately hired as a nurse in the old University Hospital (the current building wasn’t completed until 1986).
“I worked in a 52-bed orthopaedic and otolaryngology unit,” Gretel said. “We had two big wards of 21 patients each and five semi-private rooms that two patients would share.”
After five years, she moved over to Mott, becoming a nurse manager for a unit that served elementary school and preschool-aged children.
“Our patients were divided by age, not by specialty,” Gretel said. “So you treated anyone of a certain age, no matter their condition.”
Some of the treatment methods early in her career would seem unorthodox now, including the prevalence of gold injections and a lack of antiviral or antifungus medications.
“I distinctly remember having to go down to the clinic to sign out an experimental drug called Motrin,” Gretel recalled with a laugh. “Even ibuprofen wasn’t fully accepted at the time.”
Advice for her peers
So what’s the key to Gretel’s longevity at Michigan Medicine?
“First, I learned early on to embrace changes, because they are all aimed at improving the care we offer,” Gretel said. “Medicine is constantly changing for the better and our organization has to adapt along with it.”
Gretel also emphasized keeping patients and families at the center of your work life.
“I’ve worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of coworkers,” Gretel said. “If you respect one another and keep your focus on our families, egos won’t get in the way.”
Finally, Gretel makes sure that — no matter how difficult or stressful her job may be at times — she keeps a smile on her face. She maintains a sense of humor and works hard to foster a sense of respect between colleagues.
“We’re all on the same team,” Gretel said. “Just as a baseball team can’t succeed without a shortstop, everyone here plays an important role in keeping our patients and families safe and comfortable.”
Gretel’s dedication to Michigan Medicine has allowed her to see many of her patients recover and go on to college and successful careers after their hospital stay. Families often stay in touch and her department makes it a point to send holiday cards annually to newly-bereaved families.
Some patients have even chosen to return to the organization long after their treatment has ended — this time in a very different role.
“I’ve had a few kids we’ve treated come back and work for the department themselves,” Gretel said. “They tell me it’s a small way that they can give back. Seeing that makes it obvious that what we do is important — for our patients, families and each other.”