A passion for caring
FRISCO – Melanie Miller never had any doubt about her life’s calling. No member of her family had ever worked in health care, but even as a little girl, she knew.”When I was 5 years old, I told my mum I wanted to be a nurse when I grew up,” she recently recalled.The appropriateness of Miller’s career decision became obvious Thursday, as she was named Outstanding Nurse of the Year at Summit Medical Center.Receiving the award means Miller was nominated by her peers and chosen from a hospital nursing staff of more than 80 as most worthy of recognition for her nursing practice and contribution to excellent patient care.The New Zealand native started at the medical center in 1998, working as a registered nurse in the hospital’s general ward. After two years there, she jumped at the chance to transfer to obstetrics (OB), where she’s practiced her healing arts for the last five years.”I found it stimulating, and an incredible opportunity to learn,” she said. “In New Zealand, only midwives do OB. Before then, I’d only done it in nursing training.” She credits the relatively small size of Summit Medical Center’s OB unit, and its personal approach to patient care, with helping her develop professionally. “It’s a totally unique experience here, because it’s labor and delivery, post partum and nursery,” she said. “Being in a small rural facility means being involved in every aspect of care, as opposed to (in a larger hospital), having specialists called in.”
When talking about her job, Miller is consistently upbeat, giving credit to her colleagues for helping her be a better nurse. “One word sums up my experience of working with this group of nurses and that’s ‘phenomenal,'” she said. “The support, the experience and knowledge that my workmates give to each other and the patients are exceptional.”She’s unwilling to name any specific career mentors because there have been so many.”Every nurse that I work with, I learn something off, including two new nurses I’m orienting now,” she said. “They may be surprised to know I’m learning off them.”Although she has no regrets about her choice of nursing, the 36-year-old acknowledges doing the job well takes energy, commitment and high levels of empathy.”Things like being with a family for 12 hours who are suffering over the death of a newborn,” she said, when asked to name some of nursing’s greatest challenges. “You can’t walk away from that situation. You are in it for 12 hours. It’s very emotional. You have to find a way to guide that family through the day by coordinating medical personnel, explaining how and why things are happening, and making sure the patient’s physical needs are met.”Miller realizes her role as caregiver is vital to the wellbeing of patients and their families.”You become the one constant in that family’s day,” she said. “The one person who is in and out of that family’s room.”
Even when caring for a family with a healthy baby, she added, a similar amount of energy is required.”Your mind has to be functioning 100 percent and your concentration has to be total so you can give patients the best care you can,” she said.Miller’s recognition as nurse of the year came as no surprise to her colleagues in the OB unit.”There’s just so many things you can say about her,” nurse Julie Cox said. “She’s overall a really great person.”Fellow nurse Sheila Tatum was more specific in her articulation of Miller’s special gifts.”She has got a very calming demeanor about her that puts the patient and the family at ease, even in very stressful situations,” Tatum said.Like many High Country residents, Miller originally came to Summit County on a ski vacation. After working as a nurse for two years back home and two years in England, she decided to take some time off to travel. Her plans changed when she met her future husband, Jeff, while playing pool in Breckenridge at Downstairs at Eric’s.
The couple married in 1998, and now share their home in Blue River with 3-year-old daughter, Charlotte, and Cleo the cat. An avid skier and competitive mountain biker, Miller is enthusiastic about Summit County, her adopted home.”It’s such a natural fit for me,” she said. She confesses to loving mountain wildflowers so much that she has images of columbine, Alpine forget-me-nots and asters tattooed on her abdomen.Although she won’t rule out the possibility of eventually moving with her family back to New Zealand, for now Miller is content to share her passion for her profession with Summit County patients.No matter where she lives, though, Miller believes she will remain true to her girlhood dream. “The very best part about being a nurse is an offhand comment somebody makes to you, (such as) ‘That patient said you were an angel.’ That, more than anything, makes me feel so good about what I do,” she said.
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