Even though Florence Nightingale founded what is known as “modern” nursing, she would probably be surprised to see how far the field has come since her days. So is Janet Kaemmerer, a nurse from who has been a nurse for more than 50 years. In honor of National Nurses Week, which is celebrated May 6-12, we talked with Kaemmerer about how she juggles her career and home life, all the while maintaining a passion for both.
Kaemmerer knew she wanted to be a nurse at a very young age. She had never known any nurses or been around hospitals, but after turning down a full scholarship to attend nursing school, she knew she had chosen the right profession. In fact, she worked all through high school and paid her entire tuition on the first day.
“It was a lot cheaper then. She (the woman who took her tuition) said ‘You don’t have to do this—you might not stay,’ but I knew that I always wanted to be a nurse, she said.”
After working the night shift on the psychiatry floor at Barnes-Jewish Hospital for 43 years, Kaemmerer said that she loved it, even though a lot of nurses hated it.
“Sometimes I was in charge of the whole hospital at night; there was a huge need for nurses,” she said. “I always felt that psychiatry was so misunderstood. It’s getting better, but it’s still misunderstood. Everybody has those mental breakdowns in their life. Some are minor, but everyone has mental trauma in their life and it affects your entire body.”
Kaemmerer said the most rewarding part of being a nurse is to see someone’s life change around, especially in psychiatry.
“A lot of them in psych will return and they got depressed that they weren’t well completely, but there are a lot of diseases where you don’t get well completely,” she said. “When I first started in it, there were very few medications for psychiatry. We used very difficult electric shock treatments—it sounds barbaric now, but we did the very best with what we had. The drugs now make a significant increase in helping people.”
Kaemmerer, who was proclaimed a “Golden Nurse” by former Governor Matt Blunt, said that she thinks the biggest challenge in nursing is keeping up with the constant changes.
“Nothing ever stays the same. You have to go with the flow or get out; it’s one of those things you have to grow with,” she said. “I think now about heart transplants. I never dreamed they would take a heart out of one person and put it in another, and now they do it every day. No telling what they will do in the next 50 years.”
Kaemmerer and her husband of 56 years raised five children and have lived in Sunset Hills since 1976. She said managing the balance of her night shift and his pharmaceutical rep day shift worked out just fine. She didn’t go in until 11 p.m., after the kids were in bed, and then she was back at 7 a.m. before they went to school. She does admit, however, that she was tired a lot.
Now that she has 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, Kaemmerer has shifted to a part-time job at MediNurse, giving flu shots for the past seven years. The money she makes there helps fund tuition, textbooks, car insurance and more for her grandchildren—wherever the need is.
“When I worked all the years we were married my children went to Catholic school, and I worked for tuition. Seems like I’ve been working for tuition my whole life,” Kaemmerer said with a laugh. “Wherever the needs are I like to help out.”
Now that Kaemmerer is at MediNurse, she is thrilled with the rigidness of the program.
“You have to take tests, learn skills—this old woman even had to have drug testing. I didn’t care as long as they needed it,” she said. “I was really shocked at the way that they educated their people. They all have to go through some really rigid classes and I thought this is the place I’d like to work. I don’t want to lose my license at this stage of the game.”
Kaemmerer loves going from place-to-place administering shots, a far cry from the very closed situation on locked floors she worked for so many years One day she may be in a beautiful office with oak desks, the next in the back of a factory working off a desk they’ve cleared, at a railroad, or at the gas company.
“I’ve met such wonderful people and I love it,” she said. “I give awfully good shots. I do it with no pain. I’m really good.”