Small-town hospital nurse serves patients and their families

Sarah Unke fulfills her calling to care for others as a nurse

Sanford nurse wearing glasses and stethoscope smiles behind her face mask in a hospital hallway.

Sarah Unke remembers the moment she decided to become a nurse.

She was at a hospital 14 years ago, visiting her grandfather who was ill and needed surgery. The doctor had told Unke’s family that his outcome was “not very good.” Overwhelmed by the situation, Unke waited alone in the hall after listening to his doctor.

Her grandfather’s ICU nurse noticed Unke standing there.

“She just took that time to talk to me and really explain everything that was going on, all the machines, the whole procedure,” Unke said. “Despite being busy and caring for her patients, she took the time to explain things to me and comfort me.”

The nurse left a lifelong impact on Unke.

“It’s so vivid. I can remember it like it was yesterday,” she said. “I’m like, that’s what I want to do. That’s all I could ever hope to do.”

One hospital, many roles

Years later, she’s fulfilling that dream as a nurse for the Sanford Jackson Medical Center in Jackson, Minnesota.

“It’s kind of a small, critical access hospital where we wear multiple hats, and it allows for good learning opportunity and keeping us learning different things in different roles each shift,” she said.

Though Unke plays many roles as a nurse, her favorite part of the job is bedside nursing.

“I’ve always kind of enjoyed that one-on-one time with the patients, just getting to know them better.”

Bedside nursing allows Unke to make meaningful connections with her patients and their families. She enjoys learning about their goals and helping to reach them.

Providing comfort throughout COVID-19

Bedside nursing has changed during the pandemic, she said.

Unke now has less time with her patients to minimize her exposure to the virus. That, along with layers of personal protective equipment, has made it more difficult to connect with her patients.

“I think that was a struggle for me,” she said. “They’re away from their families already, and they don’t know what’s going on with their health. And then you get these strangers coming in all garbed up and everything, and it’s just hard. You kind of lose that connection and try your best to do whatever you can for them.”

Despite the circumstances, Unke does her best to provide comfort to her patients – just like her grandfather’s nurse did for her 14 years ago.

“That was challenging, a little different way of nursing, trying to find ways to comfort them in other ways with that continued reassurance.”

She says the pandemic has made her a stronger nurse. She’s picked up new skills and found some she didn’t know she had.

“I can adapt and be more flexible than I ever thought that I could be with these different situations thrown at us.”

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Posted In Health Care Heroes, Jackson, Nursing and Nursing Support, People & Culture

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