Caring is truly a family business for team of TAMC Nurses

26 April 2012

AROOSTOOK COUNTY- As a young girl, Trish Tompkins always dreamed of someday becoming a nurse. Never did she imagine that three of her four children and her daughter-in-law would all follow in her footsteps.

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A FAMILY AFFAIR - The Tompkins family of caregivers at TAMC include, left to right, Derek and wife Jennifer along with two-year-old son Nathan, Josh, Trish and four-year-old granddaughter Keira, and Kimberly, who will graduate with her associate degree in nursing next year. - Contributed image

Even more amazing is that this family of registered nurses and professional caregivers work together every day at The Aroostook Medical Center’s (TAMC) A. R. Gould Memorial Hospital in Presque Isle. Often times, their efforts involve caring for the same patient in a seamless and synchronized manner as the patient undergoes a procedure, recovers, and receives care before leaving the hospital.

“Patients have come to me and told me they’ve had our whole family care for them. It makes me feel wonderful. I have had physicians come to me and tell me how skilled and professional my children are. They are all known for being incredibly giving and caring,” said Trish.

The story began more than three decades ago when Trish followed her passion and enrolled in the nursing program offered locally through the University of Maine at Augusta. Immediately upon graduation in 1981, TAMC hired her as an RN and she has since worked on the surgical floor, endoscopy unit, and now in day surgery. It has come full circle as her youngest daughter, 21-year-old Kimberly, is currently a first-year nursing student at Northern Maine Community College doing clinical rotations at TAMC.

The first to follow in his mother’s footsteps was oldest son, 30-year-old Derek. Now in his tenth year on TAMC’s nursing staff and an RN first assist in the operating room, Derek recalls visiting his mother at work as a young child. But, it wasn’t until he job shadowed in the O.R. while in high school that he discovered he shared his mother’s passion for caring for others.

“It’s an honor to take care of people, and I think it’s important to take care of people in your own community,” said Derek. “As a nurse, I could go anywhere, but I want to be here.”

Adding to the dynasty of local caregivers, Derek, who earned his nursing degree at NMCC in 2002, married a fellow nursing student he met while on campus. Jennifer O’Keefe Tompkins, a 31-year-old native of Nova Scotia, 2004 NMCC graduate and registered nurse, works in the recovery room at TAMC. The couple has two young children, four-year-old Keira and two-year-old Nathan.

“Like all parents, we ask our daughter Keira what she wants to be when she grows up. She always says she wants to be a nurse because that’s all she knows,” said Jennifer.

The same could be said for Trish Tompkins’ second child Josh. However, the path to a nursing career wasn’t always clear for the 29-year-old. He had intended to go into the construction field and started in the electrical construction and maintenance program at NMCC. He then transferred to the emergency medical services (EMS) program and enjoyed it so much he decided to complete the associate degree nursing program, graduating in 2009 from the same program as his older brother Derek and sister-in-law Jennifer.

 “I’ve certainly had a lot of influence from my family. The best part about a nursing career is that if you don’t like working in one area, you can find something else that interests you. It’s an ever-changing field,” said Josh, who began in the medical/surgical unit at TAMC after earning his degree, and last year transferred to the intensive care unit.

“It’s really great! It’s not too many people who, in their workday, pass their mother in the hallway, get a patient from their brother and another from their sister-in-law, and before leaving work get to visit with their baby sister who is on-site for her clinicals,” said Josh.

It was through a life-altering experience a few years ago with youngest sibling Kimberly that the Tompkins family had the opportunity to truly measure the impact of their profession firsthand. Faced with a cancer diagnosis at the young age of 17, the family saw for themselves the critically important role caring and skilled medical professionals play in the patient experience.

“We had such wonderful care for Kimberly. From surgery to the oncology team to the many nurses and physicians we worked with here at TAMC, we found all to be very caring people,” said Trish.

Now in remission, Kimberly looks back at those difficult days and those who saw her through it – both family members and the TAMC team who treated her – as the inspiration for her own career choice.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I met so many great nurses after my cancer diagnosis that I realized it was the right choice for me,” said Kimberly. “Plus, I knew I would have plenty of resources to help with my homework around the dinner table.”

Kimberly is on track to graduate from the NMCC nursing program in May 2013. She hopes to join her mother, brothers, and sister-in-law on the nursing staff at TAMC.

With National Nurses Day coming up on May 6, the Tompkins family has a great deal to celebrate. The day, and week that follows, set aside to recognize the contributions of nurses holds special meaning for the family that is in the business of caring.

“I always wanted to be able to help people. When someone comes in at their most vulnerable time and puts their trust in us and relies on our professional skills to see them through a challenging time it is incredibly rewarding to be a part of that. It’s very much an honor for people to trust you like that on their journey,” said Trish.

There will be plenty of nurses to celebrate in the Tompkins household on May 6. Planning the festivities will likely fall on the few non-nurses in the bloodline. Trish’s husband Randy and next to youngest daughter Kristina, along with her husband Cole Putnam and their two children, four-year-old Madelyn and one-year-old Natalie, will take care of the pampering duties.

Interestingly enough, where Trish, Derek, Josh, Jennifer and Kimberly call healthcare their family business, Randy and Kristina also work together in the other family business – Buck’s Market in Presque Isle.