by Bobby Anderson, Staff Writer
Genia Olsen, RN, has delivered babies, taught school, and laid hospice patients to rest.
Her professional careers have spanned the entire spectrum of life but she’s carried one thing with her no matter what she’s done: a love for people.
The Good Shepherd Hospice nurse knows that has gotten her and countless others through the best and worst days of their life.
And it’s why she sees herself continuing to build a legacy of helping others.
“First semester was just confusion, trying to figure out because I had no medical history,” she said looking back on a decision to enter nursing school.
Before she became a nurse, Olsen taught physical education to students from kindergarten through 12th grade in the western Grady County town of Verden, population right around 500.
After teaching a year she took off to have a child.
There was uncertainty of what she wanted to do next.
A family friend got the nursing notion into Olsen’s head.
“I thought I could do anything. I could go anywhere,” she said.
Her husband, Jody, a banker at the time, was unsure of his own future around the same time and became an RN in 1999.
She started her career working six months in med-surg before switching to labor and delivery for the next nine.
Six years of home health were sprinkled in before hospice fell into her lap in 2006.
Working PRN home health at the time census began to drop. She started putting resumes out to different home health companies just seeing where the cards might fall.
One company had a hospice associated with it when she came in for an interview.
When she interviewed she was told the only opening was in hospice so she took it.
“I figured God must be telling me something,” she laughed.
There was a solid six-month period of adjustment.
“With labor and delivery it’s like ‘How many people get to see a miracle every day?’” she said. “You kind of have to look at that at death, too. Not many people get to see that miracle every day. There’s different things with every patient you see – just God’s little signs of why this is happening.”
That realization came after about six months on the job and the hairs on the back of her neck have stood up more than once.
“Sometimes you do get that little chill. You know in your heart what’s going on,” she said.
“It is different ends of the spectrum but they’re both very intimate parts of a person’s life. “The end of life is very personal.’”
Witnessing both ends of a miracle has been unique. She’s learned to see the value in life at any age.
“It is rewarding,” she said. “It’s just as rewarding as a birth. You get a little more relationship with the family and sometimes with the patient too than you do with labor and delivery. With labor and delivery it’s all about the mom and a day and then you’re on to the next patient.”
“In hospice, if you get to have them for a few months you really do get to know them. You’re getting to know the family.”
And she’s still teaching. She says she gets more mileage out of her teaching certificate each and every day.
“We’re educating from the get-go,” said Olsen, who does admission assessments for Good Shepherd. “An admission visit you may be with them for four hours and you’re teaching the whole time. You’re answering all their questions and going further with it so they know what to expect.”
Funerals are a common occurrence in Olsen’s line of work.
But the days that most people dread are part therapy.
“That to me, gives us some closure and I think it helps the family,” Olsen said.
Is hospice nursing for everybody?
“No, but neither is labor and delivery,” she smiled. “Those two specialties, and I’m sure there are others, but you love it or you hate it. And if you don’t like it, it really doesn’t take long to figure out this wasn’t for me.”
Olsen has worked for three hospice companies during her nursing career.
She doubts she’ll ever work for another.
“This is the best I’ve ever worked for,” Olsen said. “They give very good care. In our surveys we score well nationally. You can’t just make that up. We do so many more visits with our patients and we’re there so much more in the end where (with other companies I worked for) it wasn’t quite like that.”
And much longer will that be?
“As long as I can,” Olsen grinned. “I really enjoy it. You have to look at a reward differently than you do in the hospital where you’re making them better or having the baby. It’s almost like you can’t make them live well but you can help them die well.”