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Rice Memorial Hospital Chief Nursing Officer Kathy Dillon: Reflections on 40-years in nursing and healthcare

Published in Medical Professionals

There is a non-spoken understanding amongst healthcare workers that change and serving in a hospital go hand-in-hand. Carris Health - Rice Memorial Hospital Chief Nursing Officer and Executive Director of Acute Care, Kathy Dillon, can attest to that statement. "I haven't been bored in these 40 years. I can guarantee you that," Kathy says as she reflects back on the multitude of roles she has held during her career at Rice Hospital in Willmar.

Kathy started as a bedside nurse in the telemetry unit on October 5, 1981. Several mentors recognized and encouraged leadership capabilities in Kathy early on, ultimately shaping the future path her career would take. In the late 1980's she became an assistant nurse manager before moving on to lead as director of the medical unit, including the ICU and cardiac rehab areas. In the early 2000's, the hospital's medical and surgical units were going to combine into a Med-Surg unit. Kathy helped with that merge and the subsequent building expansion project for Rice Hospital.

"We did a lot of work around the healing environment and what that meant with so many iterations," recalls Kathy. "From drawings on a piece of paper in the 1990's to watching it actually come to fruition was a wonderful journey."

In 2008, Kathy left the clinical realm and jumped into IT as the Director of Information Management. She viewed that time as some of her most valuable years, growing as a different kind of leader.

"I didn't know the work. I could have conversations and ask questions, but I really had to lean on the experts and grow them as leaders, also. I'll always look at that role as a great opportunity and will never regret it."

Fast forward to 2017, Rice Hospital CEO, Mike Schramm, knocked on Kathy's door and asked if she would be willing to fill in as an interim Chief Nursing Officer. Wanting to help while they searched for a permanent CNO, she thought, "why not." This position is where Kathy says she found herself truly feeling at home in her role.

"Through the years there are things that have advanced and definitely put us in a better spot by changing, and then there are certainly things that have not changed over 40 years. The biggest thing that has stayed the same is simple from a nursing perspective, and that is exactly what our purpose statement says. We are here to listen, to serve, to guide, and to heal. This perfectly reflects our core values."

When Rice Memorial Hospital became part of CentraCare, Kathy added the positions of Executive Director of Acute Care and then co-Incident Commander for the Carris Health response to COVID-19 as her final roles to round out her career.

Forty years and five months after her very first nursing shift in the telemetry unit, Kathy is preparing to step down and say farewell on March 4, 2022.

Looking back, she reflects on countless memories and significant milestones:

  • Serving as a nurse liaison during implementation of Rice Hospital's electronic medical record systems
  • Involvement in building expansions and remodels
  • Adding countless ambulatory services
  • Active engagement in the formation and integration of Carris Health

Regardless of the many significant changes she has been involved with, her favorite memories will always be working those night shifts so long ago.

"It was a small family, and the culture was just different from other times during the day. Staff give so much of themselves to provide patient care 24/7/365."

After so much time and heartfelt dedication to healthcare, staff, patients and the community, Kathy's final words of advice she still gives to all nurses starting his/her career are poignant:

"You have entered an honorable profession. You will have the privilege of caring for people in a very vulnerable time in their lives. You will hear things on occasion that they have shared with only you. You will definitely be in positions each and every day to make a difference for many."