The ability for a nurse to show empathy to the sick and their families is a quality that can’t really be taught — unlike the medical knowledge a registered nurse must hold.
But empathy has long been valued an important trait of a nurse, and a useful way to connect with patients to understand what ails them.
“There are nurses who are medical whizzes, and then there are nurses who tend toward the warm fuzzy. I’m a good nurse but I defiantly lean to the warm fuzzy,” says Betty Roon, a registered nurse who works in general medicine telemetry, a ward for patients who need heart and other vital sign monitoring, on the seventh floor of University Hospital.
That ability to connect with patients is recognized by her co-workers, who view Roon as a go-to person for bonding with gravely ill patients.
“I appreciate that emotional connection supporting people through a difficult time,” she says.
“Just sitting with them and being an advocate for them — it’s just an honor. To be able to break that fear of dying, to create a safe and comfortable environment both the patient and their family, to encourage the sharing of feelings, story telling and even laughter — it’s really a privilege to do that for people so their memory of that event is one that brings them comfort.”
Growing up in McBride, a small town in mid-Michigan, Roon’s first choice for a profession was social work. Her parents insisted upon nursing. Roon was disappointed at first, but she grew to embrace the profession.
That love bloomed soon after earning her RN diploma at the Mercy Central School of Nursing in Grand Rapids. She has worked many venues including acute care, Parish Nursing and medical missions. “My last job was as associate director of MOST Ministries here in Ann Arbor. I organized and led many medical teams that would set up clinics often in rural areas, we could see up to 200 people a day,” she says.
Roon came to appreciate what the experience taught her about people. “The world is my neighborhood. People are just like us; they may look different or sound different or act different, but they’re all moms and dads, sons or daughters. They all have the same dreams and hopes we have: safe homes and healthy families,” she says.
Roon joined the University Hospital staff four years ago.
At University Hospital, a typical day opens with a cup of coffee, reviewing assignments and checking on patients. “I do vitals, do assessments, monitor their heart, their rhythm, pass meds, clean them up, turn them, the whole gamut,” Roon says.
“One of the things that I find important is to find something to personally connect with the patient. Building relationships helps the patient be more comfortable in a medical environment. I enjoy finding a commonality, whether it is being a grandparent or sharing a hobby. We get a lot of international people and with as much travel as I’ve done I can usually connect with their homeland.”
She continues to perform volunteer nursing work overseas through Lutherans in Medical Missions. Through her volunteer work and her former job, Roon says she has been to 27 countries.
As a volunteer, Roon travels every six months to rural areas in Cambodia to set up Community Health Education Programs. “I teach health care and community development to respected individuals of the village who them in turn teach their people. I start out with disease prevention such as germs, washing hands, clean water and good nutrition. I teach first aid, treatments for common illnesses and even how to set up a micro-enterprise. In the two years I’ve worked there I’ve seen the overall health of the village improve, that’s all I need to keep going back,” she says.
The weekly Spotlight features staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at email@example.com.
Betty Roon, registered nurse, University Hospital, on connecting with terminally ill patients and their families: “Just sitting with them and being an advocate for them — it’s just an honor.”
Seeking a Pleasant Peninsula: A Century of Travel & Vacationing in Michigan photo and brochure exhibit, Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Bentley Historical Library.