MIDDLETOWN FAMILY FINDS ITS NICHE IN NURSING FIELD

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1 MIDDLETOWN FAMILY FINDS ITS NICHE IN NURSING FIELD Posted: April 25, 2015 By SALLY VOTH The Winchester Star The McNeely family (from left) Linda, Jennifer, Kyle and Keith, are shown at Winchester Medical Center. Jennifer and Kyle got an early dose of medical life, hanging out in the hospital while their parents worked. The McNeely family (from left) Kyle, 21, Jennifer, 23, and parents Keith and Linda are shown recently in front of Winchester Medical Center. The McNeelys are all registered nurses working at the hospital. One of the best aspects of nursing is the different possibilities, the family said. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

2 WINCHESTER For some families, it s the police force or fire department, for others it s the military, and for still others, it s the family company their grandfather started. For the McNeely family, of Middletown, the family business is nursing. Keith and Linda McNeely, and their children, Jennifer and Kyle, are all registered nurses working at Winchester Medical Center. Between them, they have 66 years of nursing experience. In addition, Keith s grandmother, mother, a sister and a brother all chose nursing as a career. Keith, 53, works in the cardiovascular intensive care unit at WMC and is also on the hospital s rapid response team, which cares for patients with medical emergencies. His wife, Linda, 51, works in morning admissions for surgical patients; Jennifer, 23, is in the pulmonary renal unit; and Kyle, 21, works primarily in the neurovascular intensive care unit. Growing up, Keith looked up to his mother, who at age 30 was left to raise five children alone when his father died in It was her nursing that allowed her to keep us together, Keith said. I always looked to my mom and the strength that she had as a nurse. Twenty-two years after getting her nursing diploma in 1957, Keith s mother completed advanced coursework to became a nurse practitioner. Her own mother had worked as a psychiatric nurse. Even so, nursing wasn t the first path Keith went down. He had initially hoped to go into broadcasting, but found himself a nurse in 1983, and has never looked back. I sort of chose it as a job, but it sort of became my passion, my life s work, Keith said. While working as an intensive care nurse in Florida, he met Linda, another ICU nurse. Then we started having little nurses, Keith joked. The family moved from Fort Lauderdale to Frederick County in Keith s brother, Kevin, also works at WMC. One sister is a nurse in Hawaii. Another sister is a radiology technician. Although Linda doesn t come from a long line of nurses, she always knew what she wanted to do.

3 I couldn t wait to be old enough to be a candy striper [hospital volunteer], she said. I don t think I really thought about anything else. Practical career Keith and Linda s children got an early dose of medical life, hanging out in the hospital while their parents who worked opposite shifts traded them off. Later, they became junior volunteers and worked in food service. We were always around it, said Kyle, who like his sister is a graduate of Sherando High School and Lord Fairfax Community College. He said he didn t think his family would be good at any other profession. When the kids were still relatively young, their dad talked to them about their future, and the importance of working in a field that would allow them to support themselves. When we talked to Jenny about education, probably in middle school, I recall the first thing she said she wanted to do was photography, Keith said. All I told Jenny was she needed a career that would sustain her. A nursing career can be a means to an end, he said, so if she liked photography, working as a nurse would support her while she pursued her other interests. Kyle really shocked me, Keith said. That s because there were numerous careers Kyle had thought about before deciding to enter the family field. Some more colorful ideas were blacksmith and glassblower. Kyle said he realized many of the jobs he was interested in might not pay the bills. Nursing is the means to sort of serve our passions, to allow us to explore other things, too, Keith said. Although they work in different departments, the McNeelys roles at the hospital sometimes overlap. If I had a patient who ended up coding on the floor, I would call dad, rapid response, Jennifer said. Then, they could go to the unit, and Kyle could take care of them. Linda added, Sometimes, I could even get them for surgery the next day. Talk around their Middletown home Jennifer has moved to an apartment in Winchester tends to revolve around the medical sphere. We have a lot of conversations on medical topics, but there s always this limit to how much we talk about work because if it consumes everything, it gets a little tiring, Keith said. We will sometimes bring up the goriest things, or the most challenging patients. It s like war stories, Kyle said. Keith added, And then conversation after a while will taper off to routine family stuff. Changing profession

4 Times have changed since Keith first donned his nursing uniform. If I was in high school and I told my friends I was going to nursing school, I don t even know how that would ve gone over, he said. But for guys in nursing, it s a much more accepted thing in 2015 than it was in Keith was one of two men in his nursing class. There is still a strong presumption that nursing is women s work, as Kyle has been reminded. People ask, How long have you been a male nurse? he said. To that, Kyle answers that he s been male since birth. More men in the profession isn t the only change Keith has witnessed over the past three decades. Everything is different, from the age of our patients, the condition of our patients, he said. The expectations are different. Patients are older and sicker, yet expect to continue living, Keith said. Everything in the media is geared toward longevity, and not only should we live as long as we should live, but we shouldn t have to pay a price for what we do to our bodies, he said. It s difficult to live up to their expectations sometimes. It s still a very rewarding job. The medical field is in constant flux, too new methods, new treatments, new technology, Keith said. It s not just the field that has evolved; he has as well. It started as a job, Keith shared. It s more like my calling now. I often tell people I make a better nurse than I make a husband and a father and a brother and all that. Through his role on the rapid response team, Keith gets a chance to do some bedside teaching with some of the less-experienced nurses. Probably 95 percent of the nurses in this hospital, one, know him, and two, have learned something from him, Kyle said of his dad. Challenging work Although he s passionate about nursing, Keith acknowledges it can take a toll. It s emotionally draining, he said. There have been many days, Jennifer said, when she s parked her car after arriving home and cried. It could be that she had a hard night, or the unit was short-staffed, or a patient was particularly difficult. While there are days when he feels very accomplished, there are bad times, too, Kyle said. Sometimes, there s just not something you can do [to save someone], he said. We have had traumas come in where there are [medical workers] in the room for six hours. If they end up not making it, it s a huge emotional experience.

5 People in other professions, such as bricklayers or carpenters, have something they can show for their work at the end of the day, Keith said. In health care, there are times when doctors and nurses work hard all day to save someone s life, and the patient dies anyway. It takes something from your soul sometimes, Keith said. It leaves you feeling empty. Sometimes life, it s not in our hands. That s when you just have to leave work at work sometimes, Kyle said. That s not always easy, though. You will come home and your body is just dragging, but your mind is just racing, Kyle said. There s sort of a thought process you have to go through on the drive home to kind of leave work at work. The younger McNeelys realize they are somewhat rare among their peers. Being young, there s a very large contrast between the intensity of our job and the outside, Kyle said. I always make the joke, I come to work and they put two people s lives in my hands for 12 hours, and then I come home, [where] I might watch TV or play [video] games. I find it very rewarding and challenging. It s one of those things [where] you can work at it for 50 years and you re still learning new things from everyone. Although there are many examples of a parent and child or siblings both working as doctors or nurses in the Valley Health system, the McNeelys are not typical, according to Valley Health president and CEO Mark Merrill, who is also president of WMC. That s a pretty good family affair, he said. This is an exceptional example of children following the parents footsteps. Hopefully, it implies that the parents have had a positive experience working here. I think it speaks favorably on the profession of nursing. Community bond Even though there are 843 nurses at WMC and the Valley Health system serves 400,000 people, patients are likely to see familiar faces taking care of them. Many times, it s family and friends and neighbors taking care of family, friends and neighbors, Merrill said. In his spare time, Keith does work around his house and does volunteer handyman work for people in the community. My mission is to help people out, he said. My mission doesn t end at the hospital. Linda relaxes by walking. Jen and I do a lot of stuff together, Kyle said. We often will go out with friends. We [the whole family] are all very easygoing and spend the time that we can together. He enjoys helping his father with projects around the house. We have 13 acres of property, Kyle said. My dad s always told me if you look around the yard and the house, there s always something to do.

6 Jennifer still enjoys photography and making jewelry in her free time. One of the best aspects of nursing is the different possibilities, the family said. There s a thousand different places you can work as a nurse, Kyle said. A travel buff might enjoy working as a cruise ship nurse, Keith noted. One of the couple s favorite pastimes is traveling. Even then, Keith can t always get away from nursing. They were flying several years ago when a fellow passenger fell ill. The pilot asked me if [he needed] to divert the plane, Keith said, adding that wasn t necessary. Contact Sally Voth at

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