Retiree leaves legacy of successful nurses

by Chris Quirk

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Karen Bess

In a venerable nursing and teaching career spanning 48 years, there’s little that Karen Bess hasn’t seen, sometimes more than once. 

“It’s interesting when something from the past — like the concept of group testing that we did in the 70s, for instance — comes back into the curriculum as it has recently, although in a different way,” Bess says. 

Bess will retire from Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College April 30. 

After receiving her diploma from the former Jewish Hospital School of Nursing in 1967 and taking the two-day paper-and-pencil Missouri State Board of Nursing exam for her registered nurse license, she began her career at the former Jewish Hospital as a staff nurse on the obstetrical unit. Over the next eight years, Bess worked there as nurse, head nurse and administrator, earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Saint Louis University on a full scholarship. She began her teaching career in 1974 at Jewish Hospital School of Nursing. 

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Karen Millican (Bess) in 1967

Though apprehensive at first, Bess warmed to teaching almost immediately. “My parents were both teachers, but I didn’t think I wanted to do it,” she says. “It was that era where lots of people didn’t like teachers as it wasn’t very cool, but once I started, I loved it. It was exciting.” 

As an instructor, and later assistant professor, Bess taught obstetrical and women’s health courses for 40 years. 

Throughout Bess’ teaching career, she often held concurrent clinical appointments and continued her education with a master’s degree in education and later, a master’s degree in nursing. Bess credits the education degree with helping her to expand the breadth of her work in the classroom. “We learned a great deal about the theories of education,” she says. “The instruction in curriculum development was also useful in terms of putting together courses and syllabi, preparing exams and clarifying objectives.” 

Bess’ students took advantage of her vast knowledge of nursing and teaching skills over the years. Mary Kay Michael, a former student who now works as a nurse in the special care nursery at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, recalls the supportive aspects of Bess’ teaching style. “She was always very kind and caring, willing to help you when you needed it, and ready to listen at any time,” Michael says. 

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Karen Millican (Bess) talks with fellow nursing students at the former Jewish Hospital School of Nursing in 1967. | Courtesy photo

Bess says she worked to make students feel comfortable. “Many of them don’t have a lot of experience with infants,” she says. “It’s important for them to see what it’s like doing family-centered care.” 

The school will miss the way Bess taught and treated her students, her colleagues say. “I’ve had the privilege of knowing Karen for the past nine years,” says Gail Rea, Goldfarb associate dean of undergraduate programs. “Karen’s desire is that every student be successful. She takes interest in the students’ lives and personal accomplishments. Karen has freely shared her expertise and love for nursing with me, for which I will forever be grateful. She is one of the kindest people I know.” 

It’s not just colleagues and students who’ve been influenced by Bess’ expertise and love for nursing. Her daughter, Robin Welch, is a registered nurse in the OR at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital. 

Bess is nostalgic about her lasting career at BJH and Goldfarb. “This is the only job that I ever really had, working and teaching at this hospital,” Bess says. “The people I know here have been like a family. I met my husband here; both of us worked here together for many years. I feel like I belong in that hospital, I’ve spent so much time there. That’s what I’m going to miss when I retire.” 

Vice dean of finance and administration also retiring

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Tom Edler

Tom Edler, vice dean of finance and administration at Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College, is set to retire in May after 34 years of service on the Barnes-Jewish Hospital campus. 

Starting his career in the accounting department as the director of budgets and Medicare cost reporting at BJH, Edler has seen a lot of change throughout the hospital and the college. “One of my first tasks was to convert the budget process from a paper-and-pencil process to a computerized process,” Edler recalls. He spent 18 years working in various clinical departments throughout the hospital until joining the college in 1998. “The college has been constantly changing while I’ve been here. It has grown in student enrollment, as well as new programs and also a new building. It’s been fast-paced and exciting.” 

His colleagues say Edler has been a major contributor to the growth and success of the college. “I’ve worked with Tom for more than 14 years,” says Wade Lehde, Goldfarb information systems director. “His dedication to students, faculty and staff provided significant contributions to the college through times of transition and growth. Tom has been a true leader, doing his part to make the college what it is today, and his presence will be sorely missed. His sense of humor always provided release — seemingly at just the right time — and his knowledge of how to masterfully navigate through the BJH/BJC systems to acquire the resources the college needed has been extremely important to the college’s success.” 

“During my years with the hospital and college, I have been fortunate to work with a number of highly talented and committed individuals,” Edler says. “These are the people who make this hospital and this college great. They go above and beyond for the patients, for the students or for their colleagues. They are what I will miss most, but I know they will continue to take good care of my hospital and my college.” 

Join in celebrating Karen Bess’ and Tom Edler’s careers, 3:30-5:30 p.m. April 22, with a presentation at 3:45 p.m., in the lobby of Goldfarb Hall at Goldfarb School of Nursing. RSVP for the celebration by emailing GSON-RSVP@bjc.org.

Advance your learning and develop as a leader

ImageFor more than 50 years, nurse practitioners have provided high quality, cost efficient patient care, establishing themselves as an integral component of the health care team. Their roles continue evolve in response to societal influences; in particular, expanded access to health care, provider shortages, the aging population and the trend of cost containment.

To address this evolution in health care, Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College offers the Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP) concentration, a master’s degree program for nurses with a minimum of two years’ recent critical care experience.

“Acute care nurse practitioners draw from their valuable experiences as bedside nurses and integrate the knowledge and skills acquired in their advanced nursing education into patient care,” says Beth Beyatte, director of the AGACNP program. “This is the next logical step for nurses interested in expanding their practice and maintaining close relationships with their patients by participating in the overall management of their illnesses.”

AGACNPs provide advanced nursing care in a variety of practice settings to adult and geriatric patients experiencing acute, critical, complex chronic health conditions. While many AGACNPs practice in hospitals in areas that include emergency departments, intensive care units and general patient care areas, they also work in specialty care, long-term acute care and ambulatory care settings. They are involved in all aspects of patient management, working collaboratively with physicians and other members of the health care team to stabilize patients, minimize complications and promote physical and psychological wellbeing.

Students in the Goldfarb AGACNP program gain hands-on clinical experience at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, one of the nation’s best hospitals. Unlike most schools, Goldfarb pre-arranges relationships with clinical sites and preceptors so students do not have to do this work on their own. “Preceptors and clinical sites can be a hot commodity for advanced practice nursing students. Securing them removes the responsibility from the students and allows them to concentrate on other aspects of their education. Our students learn from top-notch advanced practice nursing providers, physicians and other members of the health care team. I feel confident they are receiving the best nursing that medicine has to offer,” Beyatte says.

The 27-month sequential program includes small, face-to-face classes. Students establish a strong connection with faculty, who actively practice in the clinical setting. Specialty courses provide an in-depth review of system-specific health problems commonly seen in the acute care setting. They also offer students the opportunity to hone their skills in ECG and radiology interpretation and perform invasive procedures in Goldfarb’s technologically advanced simulation center.

Graduates of the program are prepared to assume the many responsibilities associated with the role of the AGACNP nurse and the demands of the patient population. “There are always opportunities for growth and leadership as an AGACNP,” Beyatte says. “The possibilities are endless.”

If you’re ready to advance your learning and develop as a leader in your field, apply for Goldfarb’s AGACNP program. Apply online at BarnesJewishCollege.edu/ApplyNow or contact the admissions office by phone at 314-454-7057 or by email at gson-admissions@bjc.org.

Student Focus: A Nurse First, an Airman Second

Second Lieutenant Jeremy Nelson (right) at his commissioning ceremony with Captain Alan Millais (left).

“I’m a people person,” explains recent Goldfarb School of Nursing grad Jeremy Nelson. “So I planned on going to school to be a teacher. I never thought I would become a nurse and certainly didn’t think I would join the Air Force.” And although many people wouldn’t put the words “nursing” and “Air Force” in the same sentence, Nelson does, because he felt God’s hand leading him to both.

Because both his parents were in the nursing field, Nelson knows about the passion and dedication this career requires. He learned more about the profession as friends became nurses, and his interest in nursing grew as they encouraged him to consider the career for himself. Finally, after time spent working in retail, Nelson decided he wanted to start helping people facing real problems, not retail problems. As a nurse, he knew he could use his people skills to significantly impact lives every day. So at the age of 29, with a wife and baby at home, Nelson enrolled at Goldfarb and took his first nursing class.

In that class, Nelson learned about a number of career options, including military nursing. Nelson says, “I thought to myself…well, that’s not going to happen. I have a wife, a baby, and I’m too old.” Still, the option of joining the military intrigued him. He looked through some brochures and talked to other Goldfarb students – some older than Nelson, one with three kids – who had chosen the military. During the same time frame, Nelson’s father-in-law suddenly passed away and was honored with a military funeral. With increased curiosity, Nelson reached out to his cousin-in-law, Alan Millais, a captain in the U.S. Air Force. “Alan really ignited my desire to join the military,” says Nelson “So many things were leading me that direction; I felt called to join.”

During his last term at Goldfarb, Nelson applied to the U.S. Air Force nursing program. Out of 250 applicants, only 50 were accepted. Nelson recalls how it felt when he received the acceptance phone call. “I said, ‘This is Jeremy Nelson,’ and the recruiter said, ‘You mean Lieutenant Jeremy Nelson.’ I was ecstatic!”

On October 27, at Goldfarb Hall during his commissioning ceremony, Nelson became a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. This winter Nelson will report to commissioned officer training to start his six-year commitment. “I will be a nurse first and an airman second,” says Nelson.

Nelson looks forward to his time in the Air Force. He knows there will be numerous opportunities for him to learn and grow in the field of nursing and in personal character. He intends to seek an advanced nursing degree and ultimately hopes to earn a Doctorate of Nursing Practice. “It would be such an honor to teach others about serving people through nursing, but I never want to entirely leave the clinical setting.”