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March 25, 2009 > Climbing the Career Ladder

Climbing the Career Ladder

Washington Hospital Employee Rises from Per-Diem Clerk to ER Nurse

As a child growing up in the late 1950s in Fremont, Susan Tedford admired her mother's sister, who was a nurse. Tedford always dreamed of following in her aunt's footsteps, but life got in the way.

"I got married at age 22 and had children," she recalls. "Then I became a single mom and had to focus on providing for them, so I couldn't pursue a nursing degree. But I always had a nursing career in the back of my mind."

To make ends meet, Tedford went to work at Washington Hospital in 1984 as a per-diem clerk, registering patients in the emergency room (ER). After a year, she became a full-time secretary in the Human Resources Department. A year later, she moved up to work for then-Chief Financial Officer Neil Marks, working her way up to Executive Assistant. And then opportunity knocked.

"While I was working, I had been going to school off and on at Ohlone College, and I managed to earn my associate's degree in social sciences," she says. "Then, in 2003, I was taking classes at Cal State-East Bay when I was accepted into Washington Hospital's Career Ladder Program. That enabled me to return to Ohlone full-time and pursue my registered nursing degree. I graduated in December 2005 and went back to Washington Hospital as a nurse."

The Career Ladder Program allows promising employees to return to school for training in various medical fields such as nursing, radiology and respiratory therapy. The program operates in cooperation with the hospital's partner in community health and education, Ohlone College, where participants complete their studies.

"In the Career Ladder Program, Washington hospital continues to pay your salary while you attend school full-time," Tedford explains. "I didn't work while I was in school, except during summers and holiday breaks. That was such an incredible opportunity for me, since I was a single mom putting my daughter through college and I couldn't afford to take two years off without a salary. Because of the Career Ladder Program, I was able to attend Ohlone at the same time my daughter did, which was a great experience. I don't know if it would ever have been possible for me to become a nurse while working full-time."

When Tedford returned to Washington Hospital, she went to work on a regular hospital ward. Her dream, though, was to work in the ER again. After six months, she was able to achieve her dream.

"I love working in the ER," says Tedford, who works the busy 3 - 11:30 p.m. shift. "As a nurse in the ER, you make an impact on people right away. We see the entire spectrum of patients - from newborns to the elderly - and we see a wide variety of cases. Patients in the ER are often feeling vulnerable and scared, so it's rewarding to help them and their families, treating them kindly and putting them at ease. ER nursing requires a high degree of skill and critical thinking. I am fortunate to be in the company of dedicated and professional staff in our Washington Hospital Emergency Room."

Tedford spends much of her spare time enjoying her family, including her 90-year-old mother, her sister and her children. "Even though the kids are grown, they still take a lot of my energy," she says. "Unfortunately, my aunt - who was absolutely my inspiration - passed away before I completed my nursing degree. She would have loved seeing me as a nurse."

In addition to family activities, she also enjoys exercising, quilting and reading. When asked about her reading preferences, she responds: "I'm still studying. I read nursing books while I'm working out at the gym to keep on top of things."

After she completed the Career Ladder Program, Washington Hospital asked Tedford to make a commitment to work at least two years at the hospital. "I've fulfilled that commitment, but I'm still not going anywhere," she quips. "I plan to work here until I retire. This is my hospital, and I take ownership in it."

For anyone else who is interested in a nursing career, Tedford offers this advice: "If you want something, go for it. I always try to remember the old adage, 'Doing nothing is also a choice.' It's important to follow your dreams, even if you're not a young person - I'm the 'poster child' for that!"

Washington Hospital offers several programs to help employees expand their career horizons. To learn more about the hospital's services and program, visit www.whhs.com and click on "Services & Programs." To see open positions at Washington Hospital, click on "Careers."

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