Excellent prognosis: Hagler picked as top nurse
05/28/2004 By Frank Ruggiero
Her peers agreed, as did the Western North Carolina Public Health Association.
Sandy Hagler is nurse of the year. Hagler is a public health nurse at the Watauga County Health Department, a division of the Appalachian Regional Health Department.
Though she's flattered by the award, Hagler remains humble.
"It's nice to be well thought of," she said. "But I don't think that would affect the way I work or my interaction with people at all."
Interaction with people is one of her favorite aspects of the job. A public nurse's responsibilities differ immensely from that of a nurse in the private sector, she said.
"Usually, your goal would be to provide care for a person who's sick," Hagler said. "In public health, it's more of a preventative role. I think I like the variety of people I deal with through the week from all walks of life. That's what makes this job different."
Hagler's duties bring her into contact with adults, children, expecting mothers and young couples, representing various cross-sections of the county.
"You see a variety of people at different stages in life, and that's what I like about it," she said. Hagler has been in public health for eight years, having worked in the Appalachian State University infirmary for about 10 years, preceded by about 15 years in geriatrics.
"So, I've been doing it for a long time," she said. "When you work as a nurse, you've worked in many places, but those are my main areas."
One of her main areas at the health department is communicable diseases that can lead to outbreaks in the community, such as hepatitis and whooping cough.
Hagler is responsible for investigating the disease's course and ensuring that victims are not in contact with other people. She then reports her findings to the state.
Her second primary area deals with immunizations - childhood, adult and for overseas travel. A rather vast duty is working in almost all of the health department's many clinics, such as maternity, gynecology and pediatrics.
Others include family planning, part of which entails the distribution of contraceptives to women.
She actively assists in the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention program for women 50 and over without the monetary means to afford treatment.
"If women are uninsured or underinsured, chances are they'd be eligible for the program," Hagler said.
In fact, the only clinic where Hagler does not assist is the dental clinic, which she described as "probably one of the greatest assets we've had here in a while."
Perhaps her favorite clinic to work in is the general clinic.
"In that clinic, we see a variety," she said. "That's a special one for me because I get to see people from so many different backgrounds."
Hagler emphasized, though, that not all patients at the health department come from a low socioeconomic background.
Although this is her first commendation, Hagler expects to receive a certificate in public health concepts from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, after completing an on-line course.
She could apply the certification to use as credit towards a master's degree, but Hagler prefers to simply continue with her current duties and responsibilities - something she intends to do, regardless of the nurse of the year award.
"I don't think [the award] will help me as a nurse," she said. "I think it's nice to be thought of like that, but there are many nurses of the year. I think they're all nurses of the year, especially if you work here."
Hagler's coworkers aren't quite as modest.
"She's outstanding," said public nurse Jennifer Judson, who has worked with Hagler for eight years. "She goes that extra mile, and she works in all the clinics and never complains. She's wonderful and very knowledgeable."
Certified nurse Gail Winebarger said the entire staff nominated Hagler, though only several could write letters of recommendation.
When Hagler first joined the health department, she wasn't certain that public nursing suited her.
"I told myself I'd try it for a month," she said. "If I wasn't comfortable, I'd just not work here. Within a month, I felt I could learn all this, and it's gotten easier as the years went by."
Now, she wouldn't dream of nursing elsewhere, particularly because of the patients.
"In the private sector, you're worried about a patient or specific group," she said. "In public health, I feel like the county's my patient." Hagler plans to remain at the health department until she retires, "which might be a while." In the meantime, Hagler has many state health issues to follow, primarily regarding the West Nile virus, which is expected to make a comeback this year.
Outside of the office, she is an author of short stories, having published two collections, "The Root Woman" and "The Hiding Field." Hagler also treats a different sort of patient: old Barbie dolls.
She restores the dolls, replicating crocheting to replicate their clothing. The oldest doll she's restored is one of the first, original Barbie dolls produced. With the time accumulated from not pursuing a master's degree, Hagler plans to instead continue pursuing her hobbies.
Hagler was nominated for nurse of the year by coworkers Debbie Garrett, Sarah Thomas and Connie Norris. She'll be recognized with a plaque, as well as a pin to adorn her collar.
What does it take to be nurse of the year?
"Just a hardworking nurse - a person who really likes what they do, gives 100 percent or more," Hagler answered.
"Someone who just loves what they do, and I love it."