Nancy O'Brien reflects on 40 years at UIHC

BY AMY SKARNULIS | JUNE 27, 2012 6:30 AM

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Nancy O'Brien still remembers the old gothic towers at the entrance of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics more than 40 years ago.

"It's weird to think that was the entrance when I started," she said.

O'Brien — who started working when she was 16 years old at the front information desk in the UIHC — was the recipient of a Longevity Award from the UI Staff Council earlier this year for 40 years of continuous service at the hospital working in health-information management.

According to a UI press release, the Longevity Award is the Staff Council's service recognition program acknowledging all professional, scientific, and merit staff who have reached 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, and 50 years of continuous service. The award winners receive a certificate and letter of appreciation from the Office of the President.

O'Brien, 58, was the only recipient of the Longevity Awards this year to have worked more than 40 years.

"I feel that I picked the right field to be in," she said. "And I love what I do, and I can still say that 40 years after."

At 16 years old, O'Brien knew she wanted to work in the hospital but did not feel cut out to be a doctor or a nurse. She knew at a young age that she was more interested in behind-the-scenes work.
Although she does not have much patient interaction as a medical professional, O'Brien's job is still challenging in that she must make sure the hospital is operating efficiently.

"I look forward to the challenge every day," she said. "Because whatever it is, we have to be knowledgeable, and the job that I do is take every diagnosis and procedure when [patients] are admitted until they're discharged."

Michelle McGillin, one of O'Brien's siblings, said she knows firsthand how hard her sister works. All but one of O'Brien's five siblings have worked at some point in the hospital.

"And the sixth one's wife is a nurse there," McGillin said. "It really is a family affair."

The oldest sister, Patty McGillin, managed the mailroom for more than 40 years and is now retired.
Patty McGillin said O'Brien's office was on the second floor directly above hers for the last 25 years she worked at the hospital.

"We would be in the same place at the same time for eight hours a day doing our own thing, and we wouldn't even see each other," she said. "All those years we could have used the tin can and string to communicate."

Michelle McGillin said she would occasionally see her siblings in the hallways, but they mostly saw each other at home because she and their sister Barb live next door to O'Brien.

She said O'Brien is not only a great neighbor to her sisters but to anyone she comes in contact with.

Many of their neighbors have been hospitalized in the past, and Michelle McGillin said O'Brien always made an effort to take a break from work to go to their room and visit them.

"She makes such an effort to go check on them," she said. "She really is the nicest person you would ever want to meet."

O'Brien is not only well respected by her family and neighbors, her staff members enjoy her as well.

McGillin said staff members respect O'Brien because she is so calm at work even with the stress of learning an entirely new program and then teaching it to the staff.

"Her employees respect her," she said. "She must keep it inside her when she gets stressed out at work. If anyone deserves any award, it's her. She deserves the best sister, best mom, best neighbor award as well."

After raising her two sons alone for most of their lives and working at UIHC for 40 years, O'Brien said she is not ready to leave her position just yet — she loves it too much to retire.

However, her sister believes otherwise.

"We think she should retire because she works too hard. She puts her heart and soul into it," Michelle McGillin said. "I really think it's time for her to kick back and relax a little bit."

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