RGH emergency nurse returns to mentor young nurses after retirement

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – There is a major nursing shortage across our region, the state, and the country. It was bad before the pandemic and it has gotten worse since. One local nurse who retired years ago has stepped up to help fill the gap and train the next generation.    

Gwen Williams always knew she wanted to be a nurse.

“I went to nursing school for my bachelors at Alfred University,” Williams tells News10NBC.

When she graduated in 1974 she started working almost right away in the emergency department at Rochester General Hospital.

“You think what the heck did I get myself into here, it was very hectic trying to find a routine that worked for you,” she says of the early days. 

Over the course of the next four decades, she became the constant, calming force in the RGH emergency department. Williams decided to retire in 2019 but almost right away, she knew she wasn’t really done.

“I was 67 when I retired and then decided that I really didn’t want to leave the new grads, so that was my impetus to come back to the emergency department,” she says.

When many nurses, burnt out from staffing shortages and the pandemic headed for the exit, Williams walked back in to be a mentor to those who were fresh out of nursing school. 

“They’ve gone to school through a pandemic most of them, and a lot of their clinicals were virtual, a lot of their education sessions were virtual and so, they’re coming in with a different foundation than we saw before,” explains Nichole Erdley, the Director of Nursing at RGH. “So, Gwen has really taken that time to develop them, make sure that they have those foundations before we take it to the next level.”

Williams was on the front lines during the height of the pandemic training the nurses who typically were the first to see COVID patients.

“She gave them the courage in the unknown to know that they were well prepared, they had what they needed to take care of the patients and to be the only person that that patient saw most says,” Erdley says. 

It was priceless experience during a dangerous time.

“She’s seen it all, and she does it with this steadfast, compassionate approach to take care of our own, our own community, or own team and to just be a positive ray of the light for our nursing profession,” Erdley adds.

And while Williams now primarily focuses on educating new nurses, she never hesitates to hop in on the floor when needed.

“This morning we had an acute patient and I had to jump in and help get the patient stabilized and do the assessment,” she says. 

Williams doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon especially as RGH and other local hospitals ramp up efforts to recruit more desperately needed nurses.

“A good nurse is one who can see the patient holistically and their families, how they can interact together and help each on their journey,” she says.