the new face of nursing

Registered nurse Renee Very in the recovery room at Pittsburgh VA Hospital in Oakland. Photo: Martha Rial

Nurses are hard to stereotype these days. Gone are the starched whites, the notion of silent, worshipful deference to doctors. Today, they’re seeing patients and writing prescriptions as nurse practitioners; guiding cancer care as nurse navigators; moving smokers toward lifestyle change as health coaches; evaluating new technologies as informatics specialists; researching chronic disease as nurse scientists.

Meet a variety of Mt. Lebanon nurses, veterans and catalysts of the shifting health care landscape, in the front lines as they’ve always been. They all have one thing in common: there’s nothing else they’d rather be doing than nursing.

Caring for Those Who Serve
Renee Very

Direct care nursing, the care Renee Very gives the veterans at the VA Hospital in Oakland in the Same Day Surgery unit, is the most traditional care there is, with slots becoming harder to fill as the nursing profession continues to change. She’s spent almost 30 of her 36 years in nursing at the VA, and she loves it. Vets are “so appreciative of the care,” she says. “And, more than anything, it’s the mission of the hospital that makes this place special. It hasn’t changed since Lincoln: we care for those who serve.”

Very lives on Main Entrance Drive with her husband, Jim. They  have three grown children, one a nurse. Very received her BSN and MSN from Duquesne University.

With the World War II vets pretty much gone, the Korean and Vietnam war vets now fill their beds. There are also many men and women who have seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. A fair number have post-traumatic stress disorder. Very recalls one Vietnam vet, just coming out of anesthesia, who became physically agitated. “He thought the enemy was coming to get him. It was heartbreaking. There’s no one in the world that knows what combat vets have been through.”

The Pittsburgh VA serves all of West Virginia, and as far east as Johnstown and Altoona. Still, many drive five, six hours to get the care they need. Except for transplants, whatever surgeries veterans may need, they can get at the VA.

The VA system is a single-payer system, with evidence-based care, and no sales pitches from outside vendors. “We all know our mission is to do what’s best for the veterans. I think it’s healthcare at its best.”

Nurse Laura Pollice, stands inside the Sipe Infusion Center at St. Clair Hospital. Pollice is the manager of the Sipe Infusion Center, as well as, the hospital’s Hematology / Oncology Unit. Photo: John  Schisler

Managing & Mentoring
Laura Pollice

When Laura Pollice left high school, she wasn’t sure what to do next. She became a medical secretary—transcribing NICU and operative notes that she loved reading. “I wish I had been there,” she’d muse to her husband, Peter, who had heard this before. “Why don’t you just go to nursing school?” he’d finally ask.  So, she did, at age 30, earning a BSN at Wilmington University in Delaware. The Pollices, who live on Inglewood Drive, are both Oakland natives with three grown kids and grandkids.

As a nursing supervisor at St. Clair Hospital, Pollice manages in multiples: the Sipe Infusion Center, where patients receive chemotherapy, IV fluids, and injections; the hospital’s tumor registry; the fifth floor inpatient oncology unit, and coordination of community outreach, which includes the many educational programs, support groups and health screening events the hospital provides.

Bringing on and mentoring new nurses is a big part of what she does as a supervisor. “This is not the generation that’s going to stay in a job for 30 years,” she notes. “They like to explore, try on something else. That’s great, but you’d like that ‘something else’ to be in that same organization. Different specialties fit different personalities for different reasons.”

How would she counsel a young person considering nursing as career—or career-change?

“Nursing is one of the greatest jobs in the world. Now more than ever, there are so many opportunities. But, she cautions,“ make sure nursing is what really what you want to do. You don’t want to regret anything,” she continues, “but you have to have that spark. It’s a great career, but you really have to want it.”

Nurse researchers and Mt Lebanon residents Jennifer Lingler (left) and Marci Nilsen (right) at University of Pittsburgh’s School of Nursing in Oakland. Photo: Martha Rial

Changing the Alzheimer’s Approach
Jennifer Hagerty Lingler 

A nurse scientist and researcher, Jennifer Hagerty Lingler’s work in bioethics and gerontology has dovetailed into research which could change the adjustment process of those with Alzheimer’s disease, their families and care providers.  Jennifer grew up with an affinity for older adults; she was close to her grandparents, and as a volunteer at St. Clair Hospital, wondered why some elders seemed to age with little difficulty, and others faced so many challenges.

A graduate of Case Western Reserve University, she holds a master’s in nursing and bioethics, and a PhD in nursing from Pitt, where she recently completed postdoctoral training in geriatric psychiatry. She’s an associate professor at Pitt Nursing and Medical schools, and on the faculty of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in Oakland. She and her husband, Conan, a teacher in Upper St. Clair, live on Arden Road with their three children.

Lingler and her colleagues developed a procedure for disclosing a new type of brain scan result to patients and their caregivers. “These new scans are somewhat controversial because they can show Alzheimer’s-type changes in the brain years before symptoms are present,” she explains. Having information in the early stages of the disease can be a catalyst for planning for the future; other research teams around the country have adopted her procedure. “Our hope is to show its value, that it’s safe to provide this information,” she continues. “We’re where cancer was in the ’70s: ‘don’t tell the patient.’ (But) we’d like to show, with evidence, we can give people information, so they and their families can put planning in place.”

Stroke Researcher to Cancer Clinician
Marci Nilsen

At May graduation practice for her Pitt nursing degree, Marci Nilsen heard about a BSN to PhD training grant in nursing research: she was immediately drawn. Life became a three-year whirlwind that fall: working full time on a neuro stepdown unit, while attending grad school full time, through the birth of two healthy sons, now ages 6 and 8. She lives with her boys and husband, Greg, an IT professional, on Adeline Avenue.

The oldest child of a single mother, Nilsen had her share of caregiving growing up: a sister with cerebral palsy and multiple surgeries, a grandmother who had strokes. Her post-doc research investigated human-computer interaction to help stroke patients communicate using available iPad apps—easy for patients to use but never tested on stroke patients.

Then her work shifted to something very different. Dr. Jonas Johnson of Pitt’s Department of Otolaryngology brought her on to a new clinic treating survivors of head and neck cancer. The Survivorship Clinic in Oakland’s Eye and Ear Hospital, open in 2016, brings a variety of medical specialties together to address the post-cancer challenges of head and neck patients:  swallowing problems, tooth loss due to radiation, and physical mobility issues.

Their team finds ways for these patients to “live life beyond cancer…”

…their clinic’s motto. Patients travel from New York, West Virginia, Maryland, even Arizona. Bringing specialists together in a community-based clinic is a trend we’ll likely see more of in healthcare. “There is so much you can do as a nurse to treat patients in the community—with less emphasis in the hospitals,” she says.


Employed nurses in U.S. 
3.2 million women – 330,000 men

Percentage of women vs. men
91% women 9% percent men

Average earnings
Women: $51,100  Men: $60,700

Nurses with PhDs
Less than 5%

African-American nurses: 9.9%
Asian nurses: 8.3%
Hispanic or Latino nurses: 4.8%

Growth expected through 2024
16% compared to  7% for all other occupations

Highest # of nurses per 100K people
District of Columbia: 1,728
South Dakota:  1,349
Massachusetts:  1,321
Pennsylvania:  1,026

Lowest # of nurses per 100K people
Georgia: 665
California: 664
Nevada: 605

Employment location
Hospitals: 63
Nursing care facilities: 7
Outpatient care centers: 5
Physician offices: 5
Home health care services: 4
Elementary and secondary schools: 2
Other settings: 3