HARLINGEN — It’s been 50 years.
But Barbara Disbennett is just as passionate about nursing as she was the day she started.
“I always wanted to be a nurse in some capacity since I was 6 years old,” said Disbennett, 71, who has been a nurse at Harlingen Medical Center for 12 years.
Previously, she was at Valley Baptist Medical Center for 30 years. She was the director of the Licensed Vocational Nursing Program there for more than half that time.
“I enjoy the connection with people,” she said. “I’ve been a bedside nurse and a nurse educator. In my 50 years I’ve taken care of patients and families.”
She’s currently in the nursing department at HMC, but her journey into the medical field began many years ago. She decided at age 6 she wanted to care for people because of the inspiration of her pediatrician.
“I loved my pediatrician when I was 6,” she said. “She made house calls if you can believe that, and I wanted to be just like her.”
So she aspired to be a pediatrician herself when she entered Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. But the realities of a pediatrician’s work soon caught up to her. Caring for children is certainly a lovely and noble endeavor, but it has its challenges, as she soon found out.
“When I was in nursing school, I took care of a young child who had been in a lawnmower gasoline explosion while helping his dad,” she remembered painfully.
“That child was taken every day to a whirlpool for his wounds. And I saw the distress in the child and the distress in the parents. I just didn’t think that I’d be able to handle that on a day to day basis. It just tugged at my heart strings.”
But, she was already into her medical studies and her passion for care giving was as strong as ever. What to do? The obvious, of course.
“I was already in the nursing program but I just kind of changed my track a little bit,” she said. “Instead of becoming a physician I just decided to stay in the nursing track. But really I credit my pediatrician for giving me the health care bug.”
The San Antonio native graduated with her nursing degree from Texas Christian University in 1969. Her first job was at a hospital near Little Rock, Arkansas, with only 28 beds. After a few years she returned to San Antonio where she worked for a hospital with more than 1,000 beds.
Then she came to the Valley where she’s continued to this very day. She’s seen lots of changes in the profession, primarily in the use of technology. She certainly sees the benefits but there’s also a drawback.
“I think sometimes that nurses get attached to equipment and not as much to the patient as they should,” she said. “We feel like sometimes we’re taking care of the machinery and we kind of lose that person connection with the patient.”
This has also impacted on nursing education, she said.
“When I went to nursing school I had an extremely intense clinical component to my nursing education,” she said. “I had a lot of clinical hands-on at the bedside. Now many of the nursing student experiences are through simulations on a component.”
Again, although she sees the advantages, there’s also a negative.
“It kind of distances the student,” she said. “When the nursing students go out into the profession they seem a little disconnected because they really haven’t solidified that nurse/patient connection.”
She cherishes the connection she has with nurses at HMC. How long will she continue?
“That’s the $64,000 dollar question,” she said with a laugh. “I enjoy what I’m doing. The teamwork at Harlingen Medical Center keeps me engaged with what I do every day.”
In other words, no end in sight.