Two experiences influenced Hilary Odegaard’s decision to become a nurse.
The first was witnessing a childhood friend’s father receive care for cancer that started in his lungs before spreading to his bone vertebrae.
“I saw a lot of the care his wife provided for him and she was not a nurse, but definitely took on the role as a caregiver,” she said.
The second experience was when Odegaard noticed that her grandfather wasn’t receiving the same level of compassionate, patient-centered care in the nursing home as she had seen first-hand elsewhere.
Noticing this contrast in care has shaped a belief Odegaard now tries to live out each day: to treat each patient as an individual with a unique life story, rather than a diagnosis.
In her grandfather’s case, Odegaard’s family remembered him as a World War II veteran who served overseas for four years.
“My family knew those things about him, but sometimes what we saw was that the medical staff didn’t really see him like that,” she said. “He was more of a stroke patient that required a lot of care.”
Before connecting with a patient on any level, Odegaard believes that a nurse needs first to build trust, helping a patient feel known and cared for.
“Just finding one topic to connect with a patient on can show that you care,” she said.
A common denominator
In 2007, Odegaard graduated from Jamestown College and started her nursing career on the oncology floor at MeritCare. From there, she worked in hospital and home health care settings in Colorado Springs, Colorado, before moving back to North Dakota to become a nursing care manager at the Sanford West Fargo Clinic eight years ago.
Over the years, working with long-term patients has become a common theme throughout her career.
“I started out in oncology because of my friend’s dad,” she said. “And then I just really liked to connect with patients and see the same patients again and again. I really enjoy that piece of nursing.”
Today, Odegaard works with patients who have chronic conditions, finding solutions to help them manage their health so they can avoid serious complications.
“I like having the knowledge base that nurses have, and I love the education piece of it with patients,” she said.
A new role during COVID-19
Last spring, Odegaard was asked to help with COVID-19 efforts. Two days a week she calls patients about their COVID-19 test results, walks them through next steps and answers their questions.
“We’re all being asked to do more,” she said. “I think a lot of us are experiencing that extra burden of different work hours or job roles, and in a way it’s what we signed up for, so we just take it as it comes.”
Even though the pandemic has become a balancing act between caring for her patients with chronic conditions and those waiting on COVID-19 results, it’s a challenge Odegaard is trying to embrace as gracefully as possible and with a newfound gratitude for her own health.
“It’s been a great career for me, and today we’re called upon to be leaders in our community,” she said.
The World Health Organization designated 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. This designation honors the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the founder of nursing, and recognizes the vital role of nurses around the world. At Sanford Health, we’re celebrating our nurses’ unique calling and their passion and commitment to patient and resident care.
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