Conversation with … Therese McElroy, 50-year nursing veteran
Grand County has a growing tradition of extraordinary, long-lived women in healthcare. Beginning in the early 1900s, “Doc Susie” Anderson tended to patients for almost 50 years as the only doctor in Fraser. Following World War II, veteran Dorothy “Nursie” Young worked as a school nurse, living in Grand Lake at the Kickapoo Lodge from 1951 until 2000. Keeping with that matter of course, Therese McElroy was recently honored for a lifetime achievement in healthcare as she marks her 50th year in nursing. Most of her career has been spent in Grand County.
A Kremmling native, McElroy said she knew she wanted to be a nurse since she was 13. Her brother had fallen off a horse, cutting his knee open. She went with him to the local hospital to see Dr. Ernest Ceriani – another local healthcare legend – and watched him sew up her brother’s wound.
Now 72, McElroy has worked in the operating room, on the hospital floor, as a school nurse and as a public health nurse. She currently works for the Grand County Rural Public Health Network. McElroy has tried to retire twice, but she keeps coming back. Her warm, caring personality and love of a good joke has made her beloved by co-workers and patients. On the eve of her third attempt at retiring in October, McElroy reflected on a half-century spent on the career she loves.
Where did you study nursing?
I first went to Loretto Heights College for a year, but in their nursing program I never saw the hospital, not one time. It was all study. So I transferred to a three-year program called a “diploma school” – all the hospitals had them – at St. Joseph Hospital in Denver. With the diploma schools you graduated as a registered nurse but you didn’t have a degree.
What year did you graduate?
In 1963. We would study in the morning, and in the afternoon we’d have a patient, practicing the things we’d learned in the morning. It was a really hands-on program. For three years, it was year-round. We had a week off every summer. It was intense.
Did you enjoy it?
I loved it, I did. This year we celebrated our 50th class reunion.
How have you seen the healthcare field change over the last 50 years?
Definitely technology. And medications. Lordy, it’s just huge. When I was in nurses’ training at St. Joe’s Hospital, we had needles that were stainless steel, and they were reusable. We’d soak them in solution, and then we’d sharpen them because they’d get dull. We had glass syringes and they were also reused. And now, if you’re going to give a flu shot, you take a sterile needle, put it on, draw the solution, throw that needle away, and put a new one to give the shot, because that one might have gotten a little bent when it went trough the rubber to get the solution. So, it’s incredible. The technology, think about it – we had X-rays in those days, but now there are MRIs, CAT scans, all of that stuff. Now there are even babies born under two pounds. It’s just amazing, nothing like it used to be.
How has Grand County changed over the last 50 years?
It has really been aggressive with healthcare. We have so many physicians now who are in Winter Park with their own practices. And I truly believe Grand County Rural Health Network has added a huge package to healthcare with their Patient Navigator Program, A.C.H.E.S. and P.A.I.N.S. I know that because I work here, and I see what they do. A lot of people, I think, don’t even know about it. But the navigators have been awesome. (For more information, visit gcruralhealth.com and click “Programs.”)
What’s special about Grand County, and what has kept you here all these years?
Well, I’m a native for one thing. I was born and raised here. My grandfather homesteaded in Kremmling. I’m still living in the same ranch house that I was raised in, and raised my children in. I made it a bed and breakfast for 10 years. That was fun. I love Grand County. I think we live in one of the most beautiful states. There’s something here for everybody, and it’s beautiful country. We sometimes don’t think we have the best of everything, but I think we do. When you go traveling around, there are beautiful places, but we have it all. We live in such a good place that really, the winters are OK. And we have four seasons. Kind of. I love the ocean, I could go out there, but I’d get sick of it and all the people in a whip-switch.
If you could change one thing about our healthcare system, what would it be?
That everyone could have insurance. That, somehow, everyone could be treated. That’s a big dream of everybody I guess, and I don’t know if it’s possible. But I just wish everyone had that chance to be treated fairly.
What have been some of the highlights of your career?
In 1999, I received the state School Nurse of the Year Award. That was very nice. I just think my rewards come from the people I take care of, the people I work with. I’ve been lucky.
Any favorite memories?
Here’s a funny one. When I was in nurses’ training, nearing my senior year, I was standing in the doorway, and this student nurse, my classmate, came bebopping by, wearing her crisp uniform. I said, ‘where are you going?’ And she said, ‘I’m going to central supply. Do you need something?’ And I said, ‘yes, would you pick me up a fallopian tube while you’re down there?’ She never turned back, went all the way to the elevator, down to the basement, to central supply and asked for a fallopian tube. A resident doctor was in there, and told her that wasn’t funny. Suddenly, it dawned on her, and she said, ‘oh, that Therese.’
Did she ever get back at you?
She never did! But she was at both of our reunions. She told the story and asked if I remembered. But, good memories – I don’t have a lot of specific ones. Every place I’ve worked I’ve really enjoyed. I just love my nursing.
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