Sometimes when you listen to people speak, you just know. You may have a gut instinct of this person’s identity, or a vibe (for lack of a better term), maybe an aura, or even just a deep realization that this individual is truly who she says she is, and living out what she believes in. Regardless of any unimaginable challenges she may face daily, you know she’s pursuing her true calling, in some form or another. Such was the case with Elizabeth Dushkewich from Heron Pointe Health and Rehabilitation in Brooksville, Florida.
She knows what is going on. She knows what her role as an RN is all about. She hits the heart of the matter. She is the heart of the matter.
Obviously, there’s almost always more to people than what’s readily available at the surface, as many people come in layers that aren’t so easily apparent. While every single one of the CHIRP nominees we’ve had the privilege of speaking with have been so greatly deserving, dedicated, admirable, hard-working and committed professionals, while speaking with Dushkewich in particular, it seemed immediately crystal clear that her glitter was true gold.
While she claimed she “couldn’t articulate things well,” and that, “there are so many awesome nurses who could have done this interview a thousand times better,” we think she deserves more credit than that.
Dushkewich’s supervisor, Sharon Osbourne, Assistant Director of Nursing at Heron Pointe, seemed to feel that gut instinct, too, when hiring Dushkewich on staff.
In Dushkewich’s words: “I’m a new nurse, so she could have hired people with way more experience than me. But she gave me a chance. She said, ‘I don’t know what it is, but I feel it, there’s something about you, I can feel it, that you’re going to be a great fit for here.’ And she believed in me, and she still believes in me, and that means a lot to me. . .”
Despite only recently reaching official RN level, Dushkewich’s career in health care began as a nineteen-year-old CNA. But she explained that she didn’t recognize nursing as her true calling until her husband, Joe, returned from Iraq a wounded warrior, and she became his primary caregiver. She said that helping Joe recover actually kick-started her “journey of self-discovery” to become a nurse (another type of warrior—and sometimes, unsung hero—in itself).
Dushkewich became a fighter for hope. She told us that she advocated for Joe when the army wanted to medically retire him right then and there, and instead convinced them to transfer him to a medical holding facility in order to get stable again.
While the expectations for his outcome looked grim, Dushkewich held onto hope. “I fought really hard, because I believed in him, you know, that he could come back from his injuries.”
However, not long after Joe returned a wounded warrior, Dushkewich found herself searching for answers. She told us, “I’m a nurse now, but I wasn’t always a nurse, so I would look online, like, where’s that miracle cure? Where’s that doctor that can help?”
Dushkewich managed to conjure up a degree of strength and healing within herself, while also turning to her spirituality. She dwelled on the mantra: When life gets too hard to stand, kneel, and credits her faith for how far they’ve come. “A lot of this wasn’t me. A lot of this was God and prayer. God was definitely with us.”
She carries this fervent belief in hope, compassion, and recovery—not only for her husband, but for the residents at Heron Pointe, too.
Her story with Joe triggered not only her call to nursing, but also helped narrow down the specific medical setting. Of this journey, she said: “That’s why I chose to work in a place like Heron Point, versus the hospital, because I can be here with people and support them, cheer them on, and push them for their recovery, for their journey, so that they can maybe transition to go home. Or at least give them comfort and maybe a little peace and home here.”
See, when Joe initially returned to the U.S. from Iraq, doctors suggested he reside in a care center much like Heron Pointe. However, Dushkewich explained that she wanted to devote herself as his main caregiver instead, and suspected that he didn’t require that level of care yet.
That said, she embodies Heron Pointe’s mission, and everything they do to usher in residents’ healing. “This is exactly the kind of facility I wanted to be. In nursing school, everyone wanted to work in pediatrics, and everyone wanted to work in the hospital, but this is exactly where I wanted to be. This is the kind of place where I would have put my husband.”
Surprisingly, Dushkewich has only been employed at Heron Pointe since early January of this year, yet she has already left an impression. She strives to make connections with the residents that go beyond skimming the surface: “I’m interested about their personal stories, I care about where they want to go, I care about their feelings, what is it that they want, what that they see for themselves, their goals, their transitions. I care about how they feel about themselves.”
Dushkewich utilizes this caring, compassionate sensitivity, and employs a special “hands-on” approach to nursing. A self-described “coddler” and “big softie,” Dushkewich explained: “I like doing bedside nursing. I’m really rarely at the nurses’ station. I like to put my cart in the hallway, and to either chart with my patients in their rooms, or in the hallway. I like to sit with them, interact with them, and if I can, put them to bed.”
She works the evening shift, which seems to suit her well. She clearly knows the value of forming relationships with residents, and from there, providing a personalized care with a loving touch. “I have one patient who likes when I brush her hair. I have one who gets a lot of anxiety in the TV room, or being alone in his room, so he likes to be in his wheelchair near my med cart, and sometimes I let him hold my stethoscope and my blood pressure cuff, and I wheel him around and say, ‘Come on, let’s go do rounds!’ And he likes that feeling of going back to work, because he worked for so many years, so he likes when I bring him to participate with me. . . He likes the feeling of holding things, and I saw how that lit him up, that he’s being productive, and how we’re doing something.”
In fact, she cares so deeply about Heron Pointe’s residents, that it tugs on her heart even after clocking out for the night.
“Sometimes leaving is a big challenge, because sometimes, I’m not done, but I have to clock out. . . I have this one patient who waits up for me to come in. And it just pulls at me. He looks forward to when I come in, but he also doesn’t like to go to bed. I tell him, ‘You go to bed, I’m going to bed!’ But he makes himself stay up. He has moderate dementia, but he remembers me. So I put him to bed, and when I come back, he’s like, ‘Where have you been, doll?’ It pulls at me.”
Her personal experience as the spouse of someone in recovery has also played a part. When she speaks about her favorite core value, compassion, she told us: “I am very passionate about being compassionate. [It’s] trying to put yourself in their shoes, and their family’s shoes, and understanding that you’re not just treating the patient, you’re treating the family.”
Ultimately, it all boils down to this spark of hope that won’t fizzle out:
“I love the patients. I have this hope for them, and when I get to come [to Heron Pointe], I get to share that hope with them that they’re going to get better… I like to make people feel better, but I also like to try to inspire them to either find the best of their situation—like with my husband—or to try to overcome whatever illness or obstacle that they have. . . Everyone’s treated like family, which I think is conducive to everyone’s healing, and of course, a better work environment.”
Dushkewich told us that she plans to continue the work she’s doing at Heron Pointe. She wants to be a “holistic” nurse—one who pursues the healing of both body and soul—for patients and their families.
Dushkewich understands the impact of a person’s story, and she should—she has a powerful one of her own. And she takes this compassionate knowledge and applies it not only to patients and families, but to her fellow staff members, as well:
“Every nurse I’ve ever met, it’s like they were called to do this. They’re there for a reason. This isn’t just a job . . . There are so many awesome nurses here who have been here for so long, and they all have their stories, and they’re all powerful.”
And as for her Army veteran husband, Joe?
Dushkewich said that “he’s exceeding expectations,” especially given the original severity of his condition and proposed level of care, and while there’s still road left to travel in recovery, Dushkewich spoke positively about their current status:
“We’re at a great place in our lives where he’s getting better. We’re living more of, I guess you could say, a normal life. I’m going to work. He’s recovering, we’re talking about putting him in school… These are things that weren’t even thought to be possible when he was injured, that we’re making possible now.”