The hospital is abuzz – doctors and nurses, patients and techs whisking by in a blur — when Sheila Zielinski seems to stop.
She stops to think about the question she was just asked.
Is there a patient that really stands out in her three decades of nursing? A patient that impacted her, that stuck with her?
Zielinski, of course, cannot answer that. There is no way. She has so many stories, so many patients. So many awesome, inspiring, unforgettable, heart wrenching, joyful moments she’s witnessed.
So many patients she cannot and will not ever forget. They all stand out, every single one of them.
“I just love patient care,” says Zielinski, a nurse practitioner, who came to IU Health Methodist in 1989. “They count on you. They trust you.”
And Zielinski has been there for all of them.
In her 28 years at Methodist, Zielinski has stood out as a nurse who has that something special. She says the key to being successful in her career is determination and hard work.
“And keep learning because there is so much to learn. You can never know everything you need to know,” says Zielinski, a married mother of four grown children. “Get good at your skill, your craft. Some of it is science. Some of it is art.”
Zielinski grew up in Kenney Ill., a small farm town of about 400 people. It was one of those tiny dots on a map marked by a stop sign – and that’s about it.
Her dad was a factory worker and her mom stayed home. Zielinski did something else. She dreamed about going to college.
In those days, in her town, young women usually veered toward three careers — becoming a nurse, a teacher or a secretary. Zielinski really liked science, so she decided on nursing.
When she headed off to Bradley College in Peoria, Ill., Zielinski became the first in her family to go to college.
When she graduated, nurses were still wearing the white uniforms, the white hose and those nursing caps propped atop their heads.
After six years working as a nurse in Kansas, Zielinski came to Methodist in 1989 to work in the emergency department as a clinical nurse specialist. Things were so different than they are today.
“Everything was a paper chart,” she says. “We used to have a metal rack and when a patient would come in, triage would have to put their sheet in the rack. Doctors would pull the next person’s chart off a metal rack.”
But as Methodist’s ED evolved in the past three decades, Zielinski was right there with it.
After going back to school to get a degree as a nurse practitioner in 1995, Zielinski made a major impact in the emergency department and the hospital — coordinating the nurse practitioner team and the rapid assessment team, all the while still caring for the sickest of patients.
In 2005, she moved to the intensive care unit. But she continued – until this summer — to work some of her days off in the ED.
It was so hard to leave the department. She loved her coworkers.
But Zielinski has another medical mission on the side that keeps her busy.
It was 1997 when Zielinski first went to Haiti with her church, St. Malachy Catholic Church in Brownsburg.
There was a medical need in Port-Margot, a rural town of nearly 50,000. It didn’t have a medical facility, so a mission was formed. Zielinski would go with a team to treat patients as a nurse practitioner.
“And then we just kept going out of necessity,” Zielinski says, “because we realized there were so many people that didn’t have healthcare.”
Zielinski has been back to Port-Margot dozens of times in the past 20 years.
The clinic, which has grown from a makeshift mobile unit to a two-story medical building, with a doctor, a dentist, an obstetrician and nurses on staff , serves the entire town.
Zielinski helps care for patients of all ages, from babies to elderly. People will show up hours before the clinic opens, having walked barefoot for miles, to sit and wait for hours to be seen.
Family members will carry loved ones in their arms. They are so appreciative of the care, Zielinski says.
And it’s rewarding to be able to help them, she says. Just like it is rewarding to come to Methodist each day and witness the remarkable patient stories here.
— By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Benbow via email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.