Medical Advice

DOH Director of Nursing Discusses the Nature of Public Health, Outreach

For National Nurses Week 2023, the Department of Health in Polk County (DOH-Polk) interviewed our Director of Nursing and Community Health Services, Tammy Durden. She has been a nurse for 29 years, and she’s been in the role of director for eight years. Durden shares her experiences as a nurse and her passion for nursing, along with some memorable stories. 

How did you get into the nursing field?

Durden: I was new to the area and had young children. I was always very passionate about helping people and never really thought about being a nurse until I was looking at the nursing program. I made the decision to go to nursing school and never regretted it. Nursing school was different back then – we had a lot of clinical hours and I believe I got a good education and a strong foundation on which to build my nursing career. 

My first job was at Lakeland Regional Hospital. I worked in the Cardiovascular Thoracic Trauma Unit (cardiovascular surgery).  During that time, LRH became a Level 2 Trauma Unit – and those trauma patients were also admitted to that floor – now they have their own trauma floor.  I enjoyed my time there; it was hard but fulfilling work. I worked there for 16 years and wanted to do something different and meaningful. I decided to go to the health department and see what public health was about. I have been here for 17 years and Director of Nursing for eight years. 

As Director of Nursing and Community Health Services, what are some things you do? 

Durden: I oversee the School Health Program, Healthy Start, TB and Refugee Health, Hepatitis, and Immunizations. In addition, I have the Rape Crisis Center and Preparedness. In Preparedness, we make sure we are prepared for whatever is needed. We work with the county to open and staff the special needs shelters. These would open primarily for hurricanes but could open if we had a catastrophic tornado, wildfire, explosion, etc. If we needed to house people, we would activate and open these shelters. If we had a medical emergency – we would work with the county and get what was needed out to the community – be it medicine (vaccine or some type of medication), supplies, etc. During the pandemic, my team was responsible for going out into the community and working those vast Covid testing and vaccination outreaches.    

What are some things you’re proud of during your time in leadership?

Durden: People don’t know that we have a robust School Health program. We partner with the school board. Our DOH registered nurses help oversee school clinics and write the care plans that enable a child to attend school and keep that child safe at school while meeting their medical needs. We help manage the diabetic students, as well as students with seizures, severe allergies, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell, and anything else you can imagine. Also, most people do not know we treat tuberculosis patients. We deliver medications to these individuals at their home to make sure they get proper treatment. In addition, we manage a very busy refugee clinic. Refugees from other countries coming into the U.S. have a certain amount of time to get labs drawn and get a physical and vaccines as part of the process in meeting immigration/refugee guidelines. We assist with that process. Lastly, I would like to mention that I am proud of the excellent relationships the DOH has with all our many and vast community partners. If we need something, we can count on community support. It works both ways; we do everything we can to support our partners, as well.  

What do you love about working for DOH?

Durden: The Health Department is a different type of nursing. To me, public health means helping everyone. I enjoy going out on outreach, giving vaccines, and educating on where people can find resources and stay healthy. When we are lucky enough to get items to distribute like food vouchers, hygiene kits, mosquito repellant, and rain gear, we get it out to the community as quickly as we can. We go into homeless communities where these items are needed and very much appreciated. It’s also going the extra step to help people. The other day, I had this elderly man call me and he was so upset because his Covid vaccine card got damaged. I pulled him up in the FL Shots computer bank and printed out a new card for him while we were on the phone. I put it in the mail for him, along with a note, so he didn’t have to make the trip to come get it. He was so thrilled. It was just a small thing to do — taking that extra moment to do something for someone — that’s what this job is all about.

Do you have any nursing stories you would like to share?

Durden: While I was at LRH, there was a teenager who had been in a car accident and had a serious head injury. He was with us for two to three months and he would just lay there with his eyes open, not moving or responding in any way. Every nurse had taken care of this patient, and we were all very familiar with him. One day he moved his eyes just a little. It was the first time he did this. All the staff came running to see him move his eyes. Soon, he began tracking with his eyes (following our finger from side to side). A few days later, he was starting to move. To make a long story short, we made a lot of headway, and he was transferred to a rehab facility. It was about three to four months later, when this tall, handsome young man walked in with his mom. He made a complete recovery. Interestingly, he didn’t remember his stay at the hospital or any of us, but he hugged us and was just so grateful for the care we’ve given him. You see people who are injured very badly, and some will make it, some don’t. He was the lucky one. It’s very rewarding. I don’t think anyone had a dry eye that day.

What advice do you have for anyone interested in becoming a nurse?

Durden:  Nursing is a wonderful profession and has been voted time and again as the number one most trusted profession. It is so varied and full of options. However, it is hard work, and you can have very emotional days. But still, it is very rewarding and fulfilling. Sometimes the biggest thing you can do is just hold somebody’s hand. An act of compassion is just as important as giving that life-saving medication or doing an emergency procedure. Beyond the skills, the best nurse is the one that takes that moment to make a human connection.

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