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If Hurricanes Can Be Named, Why Can't Earthquakes Get One Too?

DR. VERNA HENDRICKS-FERGUSON is an absolute inspiration to many others and me.
BY Deborah Israeli, RN
PUBLISHED June 16, 2015
DR. VERNA HENDRICKS-FERGUSON is an absolute inspiration to many others and me. When I started to think of all the ways she has impacted not only me, but also those in her care, all the work and studies and reports conducted and written, honestly, I don’t think I could have fit it all in with the allowable word limit. I am thrilled to have the pleasure to share with you the weight that this slight woman has placed on me.

I HAVE BEEN A NURSE for more than 20 years and have had many mentors and influences in my life, but Dr. Hendricks-Ferguson’s has been profound. When I decided to go back to school, my father had passed away a few years before that from pancreatic cancer. It piqued my interest in oncology. But, you know, I was a surgical nurse that was never going to change. When I walked into the class, I had no idea of who Dr. Hendricks-Ferguson was or the things she had done, especially in oncology.

She has a subtle energy. She does not need to be boisterous in her enthusiasm about what she does. It’s enchanting, absolutely mesmerizing and draws you near to understand and appreciate her knowledge of oncology nursing and art of nursing care. It’s so powerful. I learned that a whisper, a quiet voice, is very commanding. If you know me, that’s just not my style. What a revelation!

PHOTO BY JOEY KREUITER

Deborah Israeli, RN, with Verna Hendricks-Ferguson, RN, PhD, CHPPN [right]

In her nursing classes, we discussed the nurse’s role, the percussion that nurses can have on their patients. I was magnetized by Dr. Hendricks-Ferguson’s interest and passion for children with cancer in pain and the impact it had on their family and the world around them. Her work and her dedication have caused me to rethink my choice about going into oncology nursing. It went from a lukewarm interest to a girl-on-fire, full-throttle feeling about my desire to do this. She has shown me there is clarity in the quiet moments, power in a dignified death and peace with “walking” an oncology patient, their family and friends either toward wellness or death.

Dr. Hendricks-Ferguson is very comfortable speaking to nursing students about the needs of oncology patients, and she actively listens to what nursing students have to share. Hearing and listening are quite different. Listening is so much more intimate. When I was in class, she was always open to conversation, never rushing anyone through their process. That kind of patience is respect. One look at her CV and you can see how invested she is in her work, otherwise you would never know it. Dr. Hendricks-Ferguson is probably the most humble person I know. She has integrity; you can totally trust what she says. She is thorough and thoughtful. When she says that she will respond to an email or phone call, she does and her answers and opinions are well constructed. You will never get short shrift from Dr. Hendricks-Ferguson. She is attentive and genuinely warm. You always feel like you are her primary concern, the only person in the room.

Maybe it’s hokey to sing such high praises about just one person. I can be an eye roller when someone talks about a “life-changing” event. I even mutter, “Oh, boy” under my breath. I’ve been told I have a pretty good “phony meter.” I never, ever got this feeling from Dr. Hendricks-Ferguson. Her work is true and her compassion and passion for what she does is exemplary. I want to be her.

So, here’s the upshot. Have you ever felt an earthquake, just a tremor? That is Dr. Hendricks-Ferguson; it is seemingly small in the earthquake realm. Not all earthquakes are destructive, quite the contrary. An earthquake can create and move mountains; change the course of major rivers (very stubborn rivers). I am happy and proud to say that not only am I quite content in my choice to go into oncology nursing, but I have made strides in my nursing career. I have gone from being a floor nurse to working in a chemotherapy center and have recently accepted a position with Siteman Cancer Center as a nurse coordinator in the division of gynecology oncology. That kind of influence, the kind Dr. Hendricks-Ferguson has made on me, will leave a mark. She is a remarkable professional and greatly respected, and very loved.

I enjoy channeling my inner Verna. So, you see, she’s more than just a nursing educator, a mere mortal. She is a force, the pulse and the endowment deep within me. I owe my career in oncology nursing, and its success, to her.
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