Practicing with care
When Dee Conroy was an intensive care unit nurse in the ’70s, she decided she had seen enough.
“I wanted to be proactive,” and sought to treat people before they landed in ICU, she said. “I thought I could be more useful this way.”
This “way” has been as a nurse practitioner the past 25 years. Next month, she will be leaving her Nevada City partnership with Dr. Doug Johnston and Dr. Jon Pierce.
“I think I was the first nurse practitioner who worked and lived in Nevada County,” Conroy said. “I love what I do, and it’s difficult to think about not doing it.
“The hardest part is telling the patients I’m doing something different with my life. I can’t do it without crying.”
Conroy’s grandmother was a nurse during World War II, and she followed her lead by becoming a nurse’s aide in Southern California during high school. “I enjoyed every minute of it.”
She graduated in nursing from Fresno State and worked in intensive care units in Southern California and then here at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. She learned about the rural practitioner field, which had started in Colorado when there was a shortage of rural doctors.
She needed a local doctor with a private practice to sponsor her, but no local physicians would. “I met Dr. (Glaister) Dawkins in the emergency room, and he said he’d do it if he had a private practice.”
The next year, Dawkins did just that and sponsored her studies at UC Davis. She graduated from there in 1979, “but there weren’t any jobs” for nurse practitioners.
Dawkins convinced her to create her own job, so Conroy rented space in a Penn Valley shopping center.
“Basically, I started Penn Valley Medical Clinic,” Conroy said. “I had no idea how successful it would be. The day I opened the door, there were eight to 10 people waiting.”
She ran the clinic into the 1980s, watching her children play with patients on the floor of the waiting room.
When the kids got larger, she decide to go with Dr. Sara Warner.
“I was only going to be there three months,” but it turned into three years.
“I loved pediatrics and working with Sara. She has boundless energy; you have to in pediatrics.”
After working with a group of physicians for six more years, she moved to her present position in 1995.
Through the years, she has had to deal with the confusion of what a nurse practitioner is. Some patients would refer to her as “Doctor Dee” and wondered why she did not go back to become a medical doctor.
“I’m very proud that I’m a nurse and now a nurse practitioner. Sometimes people still call me Doctor Dee, but I don’t let most people do it.”
Conroy has also seen change. When she first started in Penn Valley, blood tests and X-ray results she ordered had to be sent first through Dawkins.
“They didn’t feel comfortable sending it to me. Now I can order MRIs, chest x-rays and blood tests, and it’s all sent directly to me with my name on it.”
Computer medical charting has also been a major change, and Conroy has utilized e-mail to keep in close contact with patients on how they’re feeling.
“It keeps things connected,” Conroy said. “Continuity of care is so important.”
Conroy also remembers the days when she made house calls in Penn Valley. “That really let you know the patient better,” she said. “That’s changed.”
Conroy said she will miss “feeling like I’m part of someone’s family. I’ve seen teenagers get married and have children, and then I took care of their children.
“Patients give me gifts, pictures and thank-you cards, and I keep everything. They probably don’t think I do.”
In the near future, “I’m going to do some teaching, get my master’s in public health and spend more time with my family. I’ve always been close to my family.”
Looking back, “I wouldn’t change a thing, I really honestly wouldn’t,” Conroy said. “Except maybe have more hours in the day.”
Patients and friends of Conroy are invited to a reception for her from 1-3 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 15 at the Trolley Junction Restaurant in Nevada City.
What is a nurse practitioner?
Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with extra schooling and training, often in a specialty like pediatrics, mental or family health. They interview and examine patients, order lab tests and make initial diagnoses. They also prescribe initial treatments and refer patients to doctors or specialized health facilities. In California, they can prescribe medications with the proper certificate.
Sources: The American College of Nurse Practitioners and the California Employment Development Department.
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