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Judy Ward at her alma mater.

Alumna retires after 46 years in nursing

January 22, 2016
KOKOMO, Ind. — In 1974, Judy Ward’s nursing degree gave her a boost in pay from $1.51 per hour to $2.70 per hour.

During that time, hospital beds were cranked manually for positioning, patient records were maintained with a pencil, and some medications were mixed by hand due to limited availability.

She also recalls that family physicians cared for their patients in the hospital, instead of specialists, which is the norm now.

Ward recently retired after 46 years serving in the intensive care unit at St. Vincent Kokomo Hospital, where she witnessed an evolution in health care. She began her career as an aide, and then became a nurse after earning her Associate of Science in Nursing from Indiana University Kokomo.

Though computers and electronics have impacted the nursing profession, one thing that hasn’t changed is the patients’ needs for compassionate care.

“Treat the patient, or the family, like you would want yourself or your family to be treated, and you will never go wrong,” Ward said.

She began working in the intensive care at what was then St. Joseph Hospital, just three years after it opened.

“I was a bedside nurse,” said Ward. “I liked being with the patients. At some of the most difficult times in their lives, I could be there for them. I liked the patient and family contact.”

The Kokomo native is grateful for the chance to earn her degree at IU Kokomo, and happy there are even more opportunities available to future nurses today.

“I am really glad IU Kokomo has grown,” she said. “There is more available for nursing students than there used to be, and I am glad for that.”

When she enrolled, in 1970, the Main Building was the only campus building. She remembers students lining up outside on the sidewalk to register by hand. The School of Nursing offered an associate degree program at that time, and expanded to include a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1986, and a Master of Science in Nursing in 2012. The school has since phased out the A.S.N. program.

Ward’s class included women ranging in age from late teens to early 50s, and she and many others had young children. One classmate’s daughter had just graduated from high school, and became their babysitter, watching their children in a room provided in the lower level of the Main Building.

“We kind of opened a day care,” Ward recalled.

Before attending IU Kokomo, Ward enrolled in the three-year nursing program at Marion County General Hospital, now Eskenazi Health, right after graduating from high school in 1967.

Times were tense, and she recalls being on lockdown, the result of the killings of eight student nurses in Chicago the year before. The hospital was in a rough neighborhood, and security was tight.

“We had to sign in and out, and we weren’t allowed to walk the floors alone,” she said. “We couldn’t go anywhere alone, not even to the cafeteria.”

Ward married in 1968 and had her first child in June 1969. With a strike imminent at her husband’s job in early 1970, she applied at St. Joseph Hospital, knowing her family needed her income. The same day she applied, she had a job offer, and began work as an aid in the intensive care unit three days later.

Through the years, she’s worked with many student nurses, and enjoys paying forward what she learned from working beside more experienced nurses. She advises all new nurses to find a veteran mentor.

“Nobody knows everything when you first graduate and start working,” she said. “More experienced nurses may not have been in school for a while, but we’ve been working. You can learn so much if you listen, watch, and ask questions. There are no dumb questions. I’ve learned a lot from student nurses, too.”

In addition to patient care, she has taught critical care classes for more than 30 years. Although she retired in November, she continues teaching and working at least one shift per month, which suits her.

“It’s just enough to keep me in the loop,” she said. “I’m not ready to lose my nursing skills. It makes a difference when you love what you do.”

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 01/22/2016