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A nurse’s story of a life of service to her community

Elsie McLean, who retired after serving for 44 years as a nurse at Pardee, poses with her daughter, Courtney, currently a nurse there.

It’s not often you find folks who have spent their entire career at the same company. For Elsie McLean, a registered nurse, it’s a badge of honor to have dedicated more than 44 years serving as a nurse with UNC Health Pardee.

As we celebrate Nurses Week – we’re highlighting Elsie’s career with Pardee, from her years volunteering as a candy striper to becoming a bedside nurse and now in retirement, she has experienced and given so much of her life to Pardee.

From student volunteer to nurse

Elsie’s relationship with Pardee began when she was a student at East Henderson High School and joined the candy striper program. As a candy striper, Elsie volunteered more than 300 hours during her stint. She spent most of that time in the radiology department, where she formed wonderful relationships with her mentors who, along with her guidance counselor encouraged her to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.

“They were like a family and such supporters,” Elsie said. “I had a team behind me as I went to nursing school.” After finishing school in Charlotte, Elsie returned to Pardee, this time as a registered nurse, “I felt called to nursing and always knew I wanted to come back; I never thought of going anywhere other than Pardee.”

It wasn’t long into her new career Elsie’s supervisor noticed how competent she was as she watched how Elsie handled a delicate and emergent situation. Recognizing her skills, her supervisor encouraged Elsie to move to the Emergency Department — where she’d go on to spend 17 years.

Though she saw her fair share of difficult situations as an emergency room nurse, Elsie said the pandemic was the biggest challenge of her career.

“It was a hard time to be a nurse as these nurses were dealing with more death and dying than I had ever experienced,” she said.

Though it was extremely difficult, Elsie said she was also proud to be a Pardee nurse during such a monumental time in healthcare as the organization was doing everything possible for its COVID patients.

“We were rendering the most innovative care – what you saw on the news about these large hospitals is what we were doing at Pardee and we saved a lot of lives,” she said.

Experiencing innovation

There is no doubt Elsie has seen her fair share of change and innovation over a career spanning four decades. She jokes that she’s from the “Flintstone Era” as she recalls standing in line to hit a punch clock and using paper charts. Moving to an electronic health record and the computer system was the biggest change she saw during her time as a nurse.

“When I think back, it’s unreal,” she said. “We used to have one sheet for patient information that used varying ink colors to differentiate the shifts – now it takes me several clicks to put in a patient’s height and weight.” Though she saw many changes over her 44-year career as a nurse, Elsie said one thing has remained constant, “my entire path I have been provided with wonderful team members who share a common goal of helping patients. It’s what has made my career so great.”

Leaving a legacy

“It was more than just my work; my whole life centered around Pardee, from meeting both of my husbands to having my daughter, everything comes back to this place,” Elsie said. While she is entering a new chapter and looks forward to the slow-paced life of retirement, her legacy at Pardee lives on through her daughter, Courtney, a registered nurse in the surgical services unit. “Pardee has given me so much over the years and I am happy that she is the gift I can give back,” Elsie said. She expressed that nurses like Courtney are who are going to make the hospital continue to thrive. “I am proud of the care I was able to provide and to be a part of Pardee’s history and it feels good to still have a piece of me still there.”

Nurses like Elsie are what make Pardee so unique and steadfast. When you are being cared for at Pardee, you can be assured you are in the hands of the most compassionate team of individuals. We extend our gratitude to Elsie for dedicating so much of her life to serving and caring for the community that raised her and we wish her all the happiness in her retirement.

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Marilee Arnold is interim chief nursing officer at UNC Health Pardee.