Former nurse reflects on local health care

Published 4:55 pm Sunday, December 3, 2017

Over a 30-year career, retired nurse Jan Hickman witnessed developments that forever changed health care delivery in Albert Lea. 

Despite those changes, Hickman’s No. 1 mission remained the same: taking care of her patients.

Hickman’s career in Albert Lea began in the pediatric unit at West Clinic — at the intersection of Minnesota Highway 13 and Fountain Street — in 1982. She later worked patients undergoing surgery and finished her career serving patients with ear, nose and throat conditions, before retiring in 2012.

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“When I started at the West Clinic, it was like family,” she said. “ It was smaller, it was close-knit, and it was like a family.”

An Albert Lea native, Hickman, 67, said she did not anticipate moving back to Albert Lea.

“Never planned to end up here, but it’s the way it worked,” she said.

Hickman attended Minneapolis Vocational School. Hickman and her husband, Jerome, lived in Ortonville briefly before moving to Owatonna and Austin, eventually settling in Albert Lea in 1982.

Hickman said she enjoyed taking care of patients and does not support Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin’s transition of most inpatient services to Austin.

“I loved taking care of patients,” she said. “I loved being their advocate. I loved getting to know the patients. And when I worked in pediatrics, I would come home, and I said, ‘I think I know almost all of the babies in Freeborn County.’

“And now, with all of the changes, there won’t be any more babies born in Freeborn County.”

“It’s wrong. It’s just, it’s so sad. I don’t understand the geography that you’re going to leave this area without a hospital.”

Hickman called working with patients undergoing surgery “wonderful.”

“You were able to comfort people,” she said.

Over the course of her career, Hickman worked weekdays, allowing her to attend the activities of her four children, Jennifer, Brad, Amy and Mark, when they were growing up.

Hickman said she believes the philosophy of local health care has changed since her career began.

“Everything was driven by the patient comes first, and I think we’ve lost that,” she said.

“This is such a disservice to the people in this community. It just makes my head hurt, and I think that there are bad things that will happen without a hospital here.”

Jerome Hickman described his wife as “a very people-oriented person.”

“I’ve been very proud of her work in the clinics here in Albert Lea and even before we moved to Albert Lea,” he said. “She’s a very caring individual and wants to help people and does her level best to make sure people are treated like you or I would want to be treated.

“I know it’s very satisfying to her to have done her very best and to see families that she knows benefit from her help.”

Five years after retiring, the couple is still reminded of the difference Jan Hickman made in the lives of patients.

“You go to the grocery store, and the people stop you,” she said “‘Oh, you took care of me.’ You know, they thank you. They are so appreciative of everything you put out there. That’s the reward.

“Five years after you’re gone from there, people still come up to you and say, ‘Thank you for helping me get that appointment, thank you for holding my hand while I had that procedure, or those kind of things,” she said.

“That’s what makes me feel good and makes me feel like, ‘OK, I must have done OK.’”

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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