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Oral History Interview with Gail O’Brien, RN

Orlando Health, Orlando Regional Medical Center – Orlando, FL.

Gail Hyrons O’Brien and I was born in Darby, Pennsylvania… we moved to Maitland when I was five, 1952, and then I grew up here and came right into nursing school out of high school. I graduated from Winter Park High School.

Listen: 12:49


Was your mom a nurse or your dad a doctor?

No. But my mother, I think, was very proud that I was going to be a nurse. She was not a nurse. But she loved older people and often did nursing type duties with older people that we knew in our neighborhood and church and so forth. And so, I think that did have an influence on me.

“Her name was Dr. Greenough and she was a horseback doctor in Alaska…”

But really, one of the ones she did was a retired doctor. Her name was Dr. Greenough and she was a horseback doctor in Alaska at the turn of the century. And I used to go up and love to listen to her stories when my mom would go up to Dr. Greenough. And then when I got to be junior high, I actually did like some light housekeeping and stuff for her.

“Another neighbor, he was a doctor and she was a nurse and they were missionaries in Africa…”

And then another neighbor, he was a doctor and she was a nurse and they were missionaries in Africa and I used to hear their stories. So, I think, probably those two older people in our neighborhood had the biggest influence on my choosing nursing… Yeah, it was really neat to know them and hear the stories of what it was like. Dr. Greenough also was a WWII troop doctor. She was a neat lady. She was a very, very neat lady.

So after you graduated from Winter Park High School you came to nursing school here?

Yes, I did.

What was it like to go to school here?

It was great. I think we got an excellent nursing education here. I think probably all of us agree with that. We really did. We got a very good nursing education and just made a lot of friendships and it’s been fun to see them again after all these years.

Did you live here in the McCormick Building?

Yes, we did. And then, Huntington our second year. And then back to the McCormick Building our third year. There were apartments that we had. They were two bedroom apartments and then the living room. There were six of us to like a suite our junior year. It’s just a block down the road. I’m not sure why they did that your junior year, but they did. Then we moved back to McCormick Building our senior year again.

What was your first job out of nursing school?

Here at Orange Memorial. I went right to work for the hospital and worked for about 18 months for them here, Orange Memorial – Orlando Health.

And did you feel good because you went to school here, it was a comfortable environment?

Oh, yeah, very, very comfortable. The transition wasn’t a great transition because they really, we did a lot our senior year. It was easy to transition right in to being an RN here.

Nursing Boards in May, Test Results in September

Although, it was all summer – we took our boards in May and didn’t get results – when I was sorting through old stuff recently, I found my letter, and it was like September 15. We had to wait that long to see what our board scores were. I mean I remember it was long – all summer – but I didn’t remember it was into September.

Army Nurse Corps

So, and then I stayed on until the following September. And then another classmate who is here today, Saundra Howe Houston, we joined the Army together. So we went into the Army Nurse Corps.

So how did you decide to join the Army?

Oh, they were recruiting all the time. I remember, Sergeant Gibbs quite well. He was always showing up and recruiting nurses. And another nurse, Diana Marriotti, the three of us. But Saundra and I actually went into basic at the same time. Diana went before us into the Army. So three from our class went into the Army and then another went into the Air Force. Charlotte went into the Air Force. So we had a number that served. It was Vietnam – we needed nurses.

What was your career like in the Army?

I just put in just shy of two years and it was good. I did my whole tour of duty at Valley Forge Army Hospital in Pennsylvania. So I spent the whole time there. I did come up with orders for Vietnam, but I had gotten sick and needed surgery and they were cancelled. So I spent my whole time there and I first worked intensive care and then I worked as an in-service instructor training 91C’s which are kind of equivalent to LPN’s. So, it was a good experience, too. I learned a lot.

And what was your career path from there?

I was home for a few years because I had two children right away after I got married. I got married in ’70 and had a little boy in 71 and 72. So I was at home for a few years and then I worked at, by then we were up – I was up in Pennsylvania. My husband’s from Philadelphia. So I worked at – met my husband in the Army. He’s also a nurse. But then he went to anesthesia school and we just stayed in the Reading area. I worked at Reading Rehabilitation Hospital and that really became my love. Of all the areas of nursing, I loved Rehab.

Sign Language Interpreter

But then his hours got crazy and I didn’t work for quite a few years except for a little private duty here and there and weekend relief at the Rehab Hospital. But during that time I was working as a sign language interpreter. So I did that during the day. And then when my guys got college age I went back and then I became a nurse case manager. That’s what I did until 2015.

What does a nurse case manager do?

There’s all different areas of case management. I was involved with people who are injured at work; and when I was in Pennsylvania, I worked for a private company. We did all different private insurance companies, self insurance, federal government. But then when I moved to North Carolina, I just worked as an independent contractor for the federal government and worked with civilian employees under the Department of Labor: United Postal Employees, I had people at the bases, I had people who worked for Social Security. I mean, it could be anything. But they were federal, civilian employees of the federal government.

And, we tried to see that they got the care that they needed to get and the right kind of light duty was available for when they had to go back. And, you know, make sure the work was following what they were supposed to do. So, it was good, but too much traffic. I was ready, you know. In 2015, I was done being on the road all day and sitting at the computer all evening. So, it was time.

When you look back at your career especially on a day like today, are there experiences, whether it is an event or patient, that stand out in your mind, that you will always remember?

Not particularly, I don’t think. I think, you know, just different years we were going through training different areas of the hospital. But I can’t think of anything in particular.

You worked at different places, in different parts of the country, in military, and private sector, public, so is what you do the same, the qualifications of what it takes to be a really good nurse, for someone starting out today regardless of which area you’re in?

Yeah, well, that’s the great thing about nursing is you can – it just goes in so many directions now. I mean, it used to be you worked in the doctor’s office or the Health Department or the hospital and that was kind of it. Now, nurses are everywhere. I mean, everywhere. So you can really go in all different kinds of direction. But you still need to have a really good basic education and I think what I got here definitely prepared me for the different areas.

“There’s just so many different directions that you can go with a nursing degree.”

I mean, I never would have dreamed of case management. I never heard of such a thing. But, you still needed to learn what you learn to do well in… but that’s the great thing about nursing, I mean, gosh, there’s just so many different directions that you can go with a nursing degree.

Is there anything else that we haven’t talked about that you think we should document or record as far as your experience in the hospital or community?

We still need to make sure we have excellence in training all medical people. I mean, it doesn’t matter if it’s nursing PTO team, physicians, or whatever, we just don’t want to get so busy with the bottom line being dollar, that we don’t really strive for excellence. I think that it’s really important in the medical field. I hope we don’t lose that. And I think that there are still a lot of good places out there that are training a lot of good people. So that’s exciting to know.

And you had a presentation today at Orlando Health about that.

Yes, about what’s going on now. I thought it was really neat. Going back to a lot more of the hands-on things that sort of had gotten lost through technology, especially touch. You know, she talked about some background on Morning Care, PM Care, and stuff like that. I mean, that sort of had gone by the wayside and yet that really makes a hospitalization very different than it has become in recent years. So that was exciting to hear. Yeah, I was glad to hear that. Yeah, that was neat.

Well, thank you so much for speaking with us today. Thank you for taking time… and for your legacy in the medical field, all of the people that you have helped over the years.

Well, thank you! I think it’s neat to document like this. I think it’s a neat thing for grand kids, for any generation really to be able to hear.

Interview:  Gail O’Brien, RN

Interviewer:  Jane Tracy

Date: May 19, 2018

Place:  Orlando Health – Orlando Regional Medical Center




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Oral History Interview with Gail O'Brien, RN

Oral History Interview with Gail O'Brien , RN at Orlando Health - Orlando Regional Medical Center on May 19, 2018. The interview was conducted at the 1968 Class Reunion of Orange Memorial Nursing School Graduates held at Orlando Health's Orlando Regional Medical Center in the centennial year of Orlando Health's service to the Central Florida community.

Interview: Gail O'Brien, RN

Interviewer: Jane Tracy

Date: May 9, 2018

Place: Orlando Health - Orlando Regional Medical Center

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