Would you please tell us your name and where you were born?
Hi, I’m Charlotte Wisenewski and I was born in Eatonton, Georgia.
Is that where you grew up in Georgia?
I lived there until I was 11 years old and then my father got a job at Cape Canaveral so we moved to the Space Center area in 1958. My father worked at Cape Canaveral until he died in 1989.
And what did your father do?
He was a security policeman for Pan Am. And so, at that time, they didn’t usually carry guns until the later years; it wasn’t that dangerous. He was a security policeman.
And your mother what did she do?
She had several things she did. First of all she taught kindergarten for a while at our church. And then she also worked at Montgomery Wards for a while in their retail department. And then my brother had an accident and became a quadriplegic and she took care of him for 25 years at home in Melbourne.
Is that what got you involved in nursing?
No, that happened after I became an RN. It had nothing to do with my decision to become a nurse.
Where were you educated?
I graduated from Satellite High School in Satellite Beach, Florida and I became an RN at Orange Memorial School of Nursing in 1968. And then in 1976, I got my baccalaureate degree in nursing that was at UT, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, TX. Then two years later I got my masters at Texas Women’s University in Houston. and then in 1995, I got my Phd. in nursing from Texas Woman’s University also in Houston.
What led you initially to enter into nursing?
Well, I wanted a career where I could make a difference and that was my whole thing. And I thought of several things and I was always very academically inclined. So it was just a matter of finding something that I thought would really work for me. I had a hospitalization when I was in the third grade and I had a friend of mine, her mother was an RN, and she kind of made an impression on me. So, you know, but certainly I was considering the different areas, mainly in science though. You know, that was one of the things. I don’t know that there was any one thing, but certainly I was considering the different areas, mainly in science though.
Would you tell us what it was like when you started working?
Yes, my first job was at Brevard Hospital in Melbourne, Florida which is now Holmes Regional Medical Center. And I worked cardiovascular. And at that time people a lot of people died with heart attacks then.
But the other thing I did was I was very interested in diabetes. And, I’m a certified diabetes educator now. And people who have MI also have diabetes and vice versa that’s what I always tell my students. And so, I started working with everybody that came in. I asked my head nurse, could I teach my patients about their diabetes? And I started that, continued, and eventually became a certified diabetes educator along with my teaching students. So I’m a nurse educator. I’m a professor. So it’s all kind of woven together though.
When you started teaching, educating with the diabetes not everyone was doing that at that time were they?
Nobody was doing that actually. And I had been impressed, in nursing school I had two patients, one was a five year old boy and I taught him how to give himself his insulin. He was newly diagnosed. And then, there was another young girl that, I messed up on her diet, and my instructor was kind of, you know, you need to watch this. So it really impressed me what was going on with the person with diabetes.
So then I wanted to continue that work. And unbeknownst to me at the time, but later on I was to find out there were educational programs for diabetes and for patients. But they were all up north. And my husband and I when he was transferred to New Jersey, a year or so later, I was able to get involved in the diabetes community and that led to what I’m doing now.
And what are you doing now?
I teach nursing at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. And I teach, we admit 140 students each semester, three semesters a year except for the summer when we have a small class of only 94. And so, I teach that, and as I said, I’m a certified diabetes educator so I teach all the cardiac, all the diabetes pretty much. I don’t have it now, but for about six or seven years, I had a practice where I went one day a week to see patients and then I’d get called, you know, as they needed somebody.
So I’m teaching Pathophysiology and Pharmacology.
What is Pathophysiology for everyday people?
Patho is the basis for what disease processes are. So what causes the patho, the actual disease process that’s going on, signs and symptoms. But mainly, it’s what’s going on in the body to cause that disease.
Well, it seems obvious that you are making a difference. But, for you personally, especially when you come to an event like this, a reunion, and you look back, do you feel that? Do you feel that sense of meaning and value that you made the right decision?
Oh, yes, definitely. I made the right decision for myself. As for making a difference, I have literally had the ability to effect probably about 4,000 students lives in one way or another over the years. And I couldn’t have done that as a staff nurse even. So teaching to me is, it’s the way to give forward and to make a difference in many people’s lives. It’s been a fantastic career for me and I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.
Well, may I ask you, as someone who has made it, who has been very successful, for people who are beginning their career now or even thinking about it, what should they know? Because obviously, from the time that you started until today there have been many changes in medicine, but you’re someone who knows what’s needed. As someone entering the field, what should they look to for the future?
I think the future is, of course, hard to know. But we are needing more and more nurses. We have about, I think it’s a shortage of a million and a half nurses by 2025, something like that. And so, we need a lot more people. But, we need people who really want to, who are seeing nursing for what it is. Nurses make good money, but it’s never going to be a field where you’re going to make a fortune or anything. And so, we want people who have the ability to reach out to other people, think of other people first. But also, think of themselves, how they can affect other peoples lives. And then, to have the desire to learn as much as they can.
Which is what you’ve done.
Well, thank you so much for taking time to speak with us today and thank you for all that you’ve done.
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure. I enjoyed it.
Interview: Dr. Charlotte A. Wisnewski
Interviewer: Jane Tracy
Date: May 19, 2018
Place: Orlando Health Orlando Regional Medical Center
Oral History Interview with Dr. Charlotte A. Wisnewski, PhD, MS, RN, CDE, CNE