After 25 years at MRH, nurse Higgins is on to new things — sort of
Longtime emergency room nurse will still be nearby and a resource, but he’s done with 12-hour days
David Higgins never planned to be a nurse.
Higgins, who grew up in Craig the son of a part-owner of Victory Motors, had always planned to take over the family business. Then dad — with young David’s consent — sold his share of the dealership, and Higgins was off on a new path.
But a quarter-century later, after 25 years of nursing at Memorial Regional Hospital, most of them in the emergency department, Higgins can safely say he found his calling sooner than later.
“I was interested in medicine while working as an EMT,” said Higgins, who left his full-time position with the hospital a couple weeks ago. “I’d go and talk to the nurses, and I felt like doing something like this.”
College opportunities opened up, and soon enough, Higgins was back home in Craig at the old MRH facility.
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“I learned a lot from mentors early on,” Higgins said. “And I kind of just ran with it. I made a point of, after every shift, because as nurses you learn more in the field than from school, anything that came up on a shift, I’d make a point of looking it up and putting it in real context. That stuck for me.”
Higgins recalls that in those days, when the ER was only partially staffed and relied primarily on on-call staff, working in the emergency department was hardly a coveted job. But he was into it.
“I liked it,” he said. “I liked the adrenaline, I liked the change of pace, the not knowing what was coming in the door next. And eventually they made me the manager of the department for a couple years.”
Though there was fun in that for him — through this position, Higgins helped design the emergency department at the new hospital as it was being built — after not too long, Higgins was missing his patients.
“I really missed patient care,” he said. “I knew what I liked, so I came down from management and went back to being a staff nurse for the ER again.”
One of the first in the building to become a Certified Emergency Nurse, Higgins said he’s kept that status, which renews every four years, through the present.
But as much as he loved working with patients, Higgins said he similarly appreciated passing on his experience and knowledge to new generations of nurses.
“I really enjoy teaching,” said Higgins, who has worked at CNCC as well as in mentorship roles at the hospital. “Passing on what you’ve learned, it opens up a passion.”
A special bonus to being a longtime ER nurse in a small town: Everyone knows you.
“I’ve enjoyed a lot of respect from the community,” Higgins said. “They know you, you’ve been around forever, but then also if you take care of them well, they appreciate it. That’s a good feeling. You can come into your own community and give back to them and have them appreciate you. People are putting their loved ones or themselves into your hands. It’s nice to be on the street and have someone come up and say thank you.”
But Higgins pointed out that he’s not getting younger, and 50- to 60- hour weeks — including his part-time job in Steamboat Springs with an oral surgeon’s office — was wearing on him.
“I was given the opportunity to work a little less for still a decent living, and I enjoy it,” Higgins said.
He’s now 24 hours a week with the Steamboat Springs oral surgeon, and it’s opened up opportunities for Higgins to be more present for grandchildren, and for his wife and himself.
“It’s just not letting life pass you by working it away,” he said. “Getting a little more balanced.”
Higgins is still connected to MRH. He’s a resource just a phone call away, and he’ll be in and out from time to time to keep certain certifications current, he said. But it’s the end of an era.
“It’s been a very rewarding career,” Higgins said. “I’m sure every career has rewards, but for me, this has provided for my family and now allows me to slow down and still work but have time for a personal life, too.”
Higgins acknowledges change is hard.
“It’s a big change,” he said. “I miss my fellow nurses that I worked with in the (emergency department). It’s a family, and you have each others’ backs. That camaraderie when things get tough, that feeling that this is my home, my family. I’ll miss that. I have it in my other position, but it’s different, too.”
This isn’t the end of Higgins’s career, but it is the end of a major chunk of his life.
“I’m glad I could give to my community,” he said. “And they gave a lot back to me.”
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