Growing up in the small town of Hebron, North Dakota, Nicolette or “Nic” Gietzen found helping others become second nature.
First inspired by her parents, Aloys and Dorothy Feist, Gietzen had a willingness to lend a hand that would end up shaping a nursing career spanning 27 years.
“Every night my mom would go over and take of care of a neighbor lady’s foot because she needed dressing changes, and they regularly did little things like that to take care of the elderly in my neighborhood,” said Gietzen.
When her parents heard of other needs, from a lawn that needed mowing to an errand for a neighbor, they were always willing to volunteer their five kids.
“We would always be the ones out there helping people out,” she said.
Twin nursing careers
So when Gietzen and her twin sister, Claudia, began to consider what they wanted to do after high school, a nurse’s role caring for others seemed like a natural fit.
After attending Bismarck State College for two years, the sister duo graduated from the MedCenter One College of Nursing.
They were part of the first nursing class at their alma mater to take nursing boards online and not wear nursing hats.
After accepting a PRN position, Gietzen worked on the rehab unit before becoming a full-time nurse at the hospital now known as the Sanford Medical Center in Bismarck. She transitioned into her role as a nursing case manager in 2004.
Early on in her career, Gietzen learned that getting to know her patients as people first could lead to lifelong friendships. After a patient arrived at the hospital with serious back injuries from a car accident, Gietzen formed a friendship with him that would continue long after his recovery, from visiting her in the hospital to sending annual Christmas cards.
“I was there at the time of his need, and he was actually there for me too as a new grad, helping me learn things,” she said.
On the other side of nursing
Gietzen has had almost three decades of experience as a nurse, but there’s still one person’s illness that stands out as having profoundly changed her life. In 2011, Gietzen’s dad was diagnosed with lung adenocarcinoma, a rare form of cancer.
“I learned to live every day to its fullest and enjoy my family to the fullest,” she said. “I learned — now on the other side as a nurse — how important it is to listen and to sit down with patients and families because of how good that made us feel.”
Gietzen recognized that when a nurse knew her dad’s story, it helped her family feel understood and less overwhelmed.
“So that when someone came in, I didn’t have to explain that, ‘No, he didn’t have a stroke. His cancer had spread to his brain.’”
Gietzen’s dad lived for a year and a day after he became ill. Right before he died, he left Gietzen with these words.
“He told me that it was really important to take care of yourself,” she said. “Not just for yourself, but for your children and your spouse. And so that’s always been with me.”
‘So much more to nursing’
Looking back on her years as a nurse, Gietzen said her roles and experiences have given her a new outlook on the profession.
“The role of nursing means more than being a unit floor nurse, like what I thought when I graduated,” she said. “There’s so much more to nursing from education to management, and to know about all of those roles within nursing makes it seem that much more important.”
The World Health Organization has 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 celebrate our nurses’ unique calling and their passion and commitment to patient and resident care.
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