Veteran UI Hospitals and Clinics nurse draws on 35-year career to nurture next generation
Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Judy Swafford is a lifelong learner, and she tries to instill that quality in others. So, when she was asked if nursing students could intern with her, she couldn’t say no.

Swafford's nursing career spans 35 years, all of it at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. A registered nurse, she currently works with acute and chronic spine patients in the Orthopedics Clinic.

"Certainly there are challenges to having students because you are trying to coordinate those things you need to do that day and still provide educational opportunities," she says. "But I feel it is my role as a professional to help nurture that next generation of nurses."

When nursing students work with Swafford, they assist with many aspects of outpatient care, including phone triage of patient issues, record reviews for appointments, pre-surgery consultations, and patient education. By the end of the semester, students are pulling diagnoses and looking at clinical exam notes and available imaging studies to help determine the level of care a patient needs.

The experience exposes nursing students to the changing world of health care. They also accompany Swafford to meetings and committees, such as shared governance, to gain a comprehensive picture of nursing.

In fiscal year 2014 alone, 675 nursing students spent 73,359 hours learning from and working alongside nurses at UI Hospitals and Clinics in traditional rotations, internships, and dedicated education-unit experiences. Those numbers do not include the 276 students who came for 1,666 hours of tours, shadows, and observations in that year.

Students from nursing programs across eastern Iowa may also come to observe care in specialties that may not be available to them locally. Iowa Wesleyan University nursing students visit UI Hospitals and Clinics each year for shadowing as part of their psychiatric rotation.

"I feel like it is our duty and privilege to facilitate these shadows and observations, as much as the regular placements,” says Lou Ann Montgomery, director of nursing professional development and advanced practice and nursing informatics liaison. "We want nursing students to be successful, and we can help with that by providing opportunities to find the specialty that fits them best."

But what does Swafford enjoy most about teaching? She says it’s building a relationship with her students, people she would have never met without this opportunity. This year, she connected with them in a brand new way: Swafford is currently working to complete her Bachelor of Science in nursing.

"A lot of classes I was in they had just taken. So, at times, it was a peer relationship. We were able to talk about the things we’d learned and apply them to the clinical situation," Swafford says.

Looking into the future, she plans on working with more students, perhaps as early as next fall.

"I’m so thankful for the opportunity to pass along the things I really value, like being engaged as a professional and that desire to never stop learning," Swafford says.