Sam Bownlee: Part of a 63-year family tradition of patient care
Celebrating our Nurses through the extension of Year of the Nurse and Midwife
The World Health Organization recently extended the Year of the Nurse and Midwife through 2021. Here in the Providence Alaska Region, we’re celebrating our nurses through a series of stories from across our ministries. These stories spotlight our nurses, their incredible dedication to our Mission, their profession, and their patients.
You could say health care is a family affair. For nurse Sam Brownlee, BSN, RN, his chosen career is part of a collective 63-plus-year family tradition of caring for patients at Providence Anchorage Medical Center (PAMC).
“It definitely felt like coming home,” explains Brownlee of his decision to return to Anchorage in the summer of 2020 after beginning his nursing career a few years earlier in Minnesota. “My parents have worked at PAMC for 30 years.”
Brownlee works nights, caring for patients with life-threatening heart conditions in the hospital’s cardiac intensive care unit. While he doesn’t work the same shift as his respiratory therapist mom, he does periodically see his echo technologist dad – who comes to his unit to perform early morning echo services for patients. And to round things out, his sister just began her career as a respiratory therapist at PAMC.
Having parents that work in the same place meant that he grew up with the hospital always in the background. However, he chose to become a nurse after discovering the wide variety of experiences nurses can have throughout their career as they practice their craft. Early on he had the opportunity to shadow a very experienced ICU nurse that had been at Providence for a long time.
“It really gave me insight into how much nurses have to think independently,” Brownlee said of this early exposure to nursing. “The amount of decisions that this nurse was making on the fly with her patients was just an inspiration.”
At that point, he was hooked. Nursing school soon followed.
“I put my heart into nursing and I’m just so happy it panned out,” says Brownlee. He approaches patient care in the way that his nursing school professors stressed – caring patients in same way you would want your own family members to receive care.
“I always try to make sure I am emotionally available to my patients, so that they feel safe,” he says. “A patient will definitely remember you scratching their back in the right place more than they will remember giving the medication correctly. It’s the personal connection.”
Because he works nights, he typically doesn’t get to say goodbye to patients before they are discharged.
“The one thing that I get a lot of joy out of is coming back and seeing that people are gone, that they’ve gone home and are doing better. That means we’ve done our jobs.”
What he appreciates most about being a nurse is to see how each of his colleagues think and naturally sync up with each other when working together at the bedside.
“With nursing, colleague to colleague, you really learn to appreciate a colleague’s brain more than anything else about them,” Brownlee says. “It really doesn’t matter who you are, it’s how you react and think that’s going to determine the quality of your practice.
For Brownlee, teamwork at its best is about a collective clinical brain coming together and responding effortlessly to what can be complex patient needs. Being a witness to his colleagues, and his family, doing their jobs well just inspires him to do better.
Brownlee is one of more than 1,220 nurses working at Providence Alaska Medical Center and one of more than 1,600 nurses who work in service of the Providence Alaska region. The World Health Organization extended its 2020 “Year of the Nurse and Midwife” celebration into 2021. Providence couldn’t agree more.