Issue 7 Stories

The Value of Valuing Nurses

Dr. Theresa “Terry” Valiga taught aspiring nurses and nursing professors for more than 40 years at some of the most prestigious university systems in the country, including Georgetown, Villanova and Duke. Surprisingly, though, the institution that gets her highest rating for nurse appreciation is one for which she’s never even worked. In her opinion, no one values its nurses quite like Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital.

Terry and her husband, Bob, are ardent financial supporters of the Haden Institute for Nursing Excellence and Innovation, which, among other activities, provides scholarships to Sentara Martha Jefferson nurses who want to continue their education; offers a 12-month-long nurse residency program for new nursing graduates, including a simulation lab; and conducts ongoing research that builds the evidence on which high-quality nursing practice is based.

“I am so impressed with the investment Sentara Martha Jefferson makes in its nurses, as well as its ongoing innovation in nursing education and practice,” Terry says. “The hospital acknowledges the importance of nurses and nursing in everything it does. I hadn’t ever really seen that before, so it felt really good to be able to support this kind of environment.”

Ironically, the Valigas’ admiration for Sentara Martha Jefferson came about initially not through any of Terry’s professional connections, but through their experiences as patients.

The introduction happened in a roundabout way due, in large part, to the couple’s unusual lifestyle. Natives of New Jersey, Bob and Terry met in high school, married after college and settled down in their home state. Bob, who studied engineering science, took a position with an electric and gas utility, while Terry worked as a nurse. Soon, though, Terry went back to graduate school and became a nursing professor, which required her to go out of state to work.

To ease the logistical challenges, the Valigas came up with a simple solution. “We had a permanent house in New Jersey, and I would also have an apartment wherever I was working,” Terry explains. “I would work and live in my apartment for most of the week and then come home on weekends and holidays—something we did for decades.”

The arrangement allowed Terry’s career to soar, and she soon became internationally renowned as an expert in nursing education, including curriculum development, teaching innovations and leadership. Besides teaching, she served as chief program officer of the National League for Nursing (NLN), where she helped develop the NLN Hallmarks of Excellence in Nursing Education, the Nurse Educator Certification Program and the Academy of Nursing Education. She has also received several prestigious awards for excellence in nursing education and has been inducted as a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing.

The same arrangement, though, also allowed Bob to retire 15 years ago to the location of his choice, which happened to be the Glenmore Community in Keswick. “I had seen an article about how Charlottesville was a great place to retire,” recalls Bob, a golfer who wanted to live somewhere that had a longer golf season than New Jersey but wasn’t too hot in the summer. “So we came down here, looked around, loved the golf course and everything about the area, and purchased a lot on our first visit. Several years later, we built our house and moved in, even though we had no friends or connections here.”

The change had little effect on Terry, who continued to teach out of state and simply returned to a different permanent home on weekends and holidays—though she eventually took a different teaching position at the Duke University School of Nursing, which made for a shorter drive. Bob, in the meantime, got to know the Charlottesville community and his Glenmore neighbors, who just happened to include Jim Haden, then president of Martha Jefferson Hospital, and Ernie Edwards, who served on the hospital’s board of directors. Bob was soon serving as an enthusiastic and ongoing volunteer for the Martha Jefferson Champion’s Cup Golf Tournament, a major annual fundraising event that benefits cancer care.

It was the couple’s experience as patients, however, that inspired them to really start supporting Sentara Martha Jefferson.

“Unlike a lot of other places, Sentara Martha Jefferson is just such a caring environment,” says Terry. “The physicians and nurses are willing to spend time with you. They remember you and take time to talk to you about things that are important to you. We’ve been very happy with every experience we’ve ever had at the hospital.”

When Terry and Bob heard that Sentara Martha Jefferson had kicked off a multimillion-dollar philanthropic initiative to establish the Institute for Nursing Excellence and Innovation in 2013, they jumped at the chance to support it.

Terry, in fact, made it a point from then on to hand out brochures and annual reports to her hospital colleagues at Duke and other institutions. “I would say, ‘Look at what Sentara Martha Jefferson is doing for its nurses,’” she recalls. “I was just so impressed with it.”

In late August 2017, Terry retired from teaching. Now that she’s finally a full-time Keswick resident, she’s ready and eager to be a more hands-on volunteer within the Institute. She recently met with Johnsa Morris, the hospital’s chief nursing officer, and is hoping she can use her knowledge and experience to help nurses develop their leadership skills and further improve patient care and outcomes within their units.

“Everybody I’ve ever interacted with at Sentara Martha Jefferson has been nice and warm and welcoming and helpful,” she adds. “If there’s some way I can be involved that meets their needs and fits with what I have to offer, then I want to be doing that.”

Bob agrees, noting: “There is just such a unique personal, caring spirit at Sentara Martha Jefferson at all levels, and as long as that kind of environment continues, we’re more than happy to keep giving our support.”

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