Ringgold County Hospital’s longest tenured employee is Chief Nursing Officer, Kathi Schuster. Like many people with a passion for helping others, she knew from the time she was a freshman in high school that nursing was going to be her career. “My mother died of a heart attack when I was 12,” said Kathi. “It’s why I got into nursing.” In fact, she began working as a Certified Nursing Assistant at RCH before she even went to college.
She was accepted into the Methodist School of Nursing in Des Moines when she was a junior in high school. She decided to finish high school and enjoy her senior year before entering the program. “It was a three-year program that ran year-round,” she explained. “We only had three weeks off every August. When I graduated, I was a Registered Nurse. I chose nursing because of my experience with the nurses at Ringgold County Hospital. They obviously knew what they were doing, and I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be the best.” She added that she eventually did get into management and got another degree in business administration.
Her first nursing job was at Iowa Methodist Medical Center in pediatrics, where she had done her clinical training. Then she met her husband, who is from Mount Ayr, so she started looking at area hospitals. “I interviewed at other places, but I thought this was a better fit for me. I liked the direction this hospital was going. I liked the people. It was clear that everyone respected the nurses and worked as a team. Some other hospitals had a little more ‘stuff’ but the people weren’t as friendly.” It certainly has proven to be a good fit since she started at RCH in April 1982 and has never left!
According to Kathi, back then when she worked as a full-time RN, they did everything, “Emergency Room, Operating Room, Medical/Surgical, Obstetrics, we did it all! I loved it! My favorite was Obstetrics and the ER.” At the time, RCH was considered a Sole Community Provider Hospital and had 46 beds. “When I started, it was nothing to have both halls completely full. The rules have since changed significantly. We used to admit patients for things that are outpatient procedures now.”
After two years, Kathi was selected to help develop an entire program for the new Harold Hughes Center, a Chemical Dependency Unit. “I developed all the policies and procedures and assisted the Director of Nursing with a hospital-wide nursing standards and procedure manual.”
In 1988, Kathi was urged to apply for the Director of Nursing position at RCH. “There had been several people in the position, and it was clear we needed some stability,” she said. Again, Kathi made a career move that was a good fit. She remained Director of Nursing until 2005 when she was promoted to Chief Nursing Officer. “I’ve been responsible for all the nursing units: acute care, ER, surgical, out-patient,” she said. Over the years, she acquired additional departments including physical therapy, laboratory, radiology and the Mount Ayr Medical Clinic. “I’ve got very good managers!” Now her job is less clinical and more administrative, so she was pleased to pitch in and help during the Covid-19 pandemic. “It’s been kind of fun to get back to my roots!”
Kathi is proud of the orientation she’s developed for nurses new to RCH. “When I first started, we were expected to just jump in anywhere on the first day. I wanted to be sure that all of our nurses have advanced cardiac life support training. I implemented a policy that nurses have to work a year on the floor before working in the ER. I’m very proud of that.”
Technology has made the biggest changes at the hospital since Kathi started almost 40 years ago. “I actually think that having Electronic Health Records has helped,” she said. “It has standardized orders. In the past we had to go from memory. Things are now at our fingertips.”
Having such a long history in one place, Kathi has seen it all. One of the most significant milestones was helping design the current facility, which was built in 2009. “Our CEO Gordon Winkler really shined when we were building the new hospital,” said Kathi. “He allowed everyone to have a voice and it showed a lot of teamwork.”
After such a long and illustrious career, Kathi’s compassion and empathy are demonstrated when asked about the highlights. “Seeing other nurses grow, be successful, and move up in their own careers is my favorite part of the job.”