SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Submitted to WBTV by Novant Health Rowan Medical Center: Linda said it was a calling from God when she was a little girl. Brenda needed a little more coaxing. She admired young women working as store cashiers, with their pretty painted fingernails, and thought she might like to take the same career path. That changed when she was hospitalized at the age of 11 for an appendectomy. She bonded with the nurses caring for her and felt her own call to pursue nursing.
The twins attended East Rowan High School, then entered the School of Nursing at Cabarrus Memorial Hospital. They said they never wanted to live anywhere else, attend nursing school anywhere else, or work anywhere other than Novant Health Rowan Medical Centerin Salisbury, North Carolina.
The sisters were hired at Rowan Medical Center in July of 1979. They have been there ever since.
"We always wanted to work at our hometown hospital," Brenda said. "This was our very first job, and we've practiced our entire careers here."
"We love living in this community and in a small town," added Linda.
Come July, Brenda and Linda will celebrate 39 years at Rowan Medical Center.
In a career this long, things will change
The sisters are both bedside nurses, which means they practice direct, immediate patient care in the hospital. Brenda works on the oncology unit, Linda on the telemetry step-down unit.
They said many changes have occurred during their 39-year careers, especially in technology. "We used to use pen and paper, now everything is done on a computer," Brenda said, laughing. "And that's just the beginning of the new technology we've learned!"
One of the best developments, they both said, is the transformation to patient-centered care. While the traditional model of care focused on providing similar treatment for patients with similar diagnoses or conditions, patient-centered care addresses the unique concerns and preferences of patients.
"Each patient is made to feel like they are the most important person in all we do here, and they are," said Brenda.
One thing that hasn't changed in 39 years is the sisters' uniforms. Long after most nurses adopted scrubs for everyday duty, they still wear the traditional white dress, hose and cap they wore when they started in 1979.
"It's what we wore when we first started, and we decided to stick with it," Brenda said. "We've converted another nurse to adopt this uniform, too, and we have patients that love it."
Here's Nurse Manager Christopher Cook's take on the pair: "Champions of patient advocacy, Brenda and Linda practice a holistic approach to the care they provide those fortunate to find themselves in their capable hands. Beyond daily nursing tasks, Brenda and Linda are a listening ear, a caring heart for their patients and a support provider through the challenging times that a hospital admission can present."
Brenda and Linda have always lived and socialized together. Their household includes their widowed 82-year-old mother. They all attend First Church of the Nazarene, where the sisters are active in mission work.
Their professional lives include many similarities as well.
For three decades, the sisters worked rotating shifts. Nine years ago, they switched to the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, always trying to get the same shifts and same days off. They now work just two 12-hour shifts a week so they have more time for church and volunteer activities.
They also share recognition for excellence in their profession. Both have received hospital-level commendations and statewide recognition. In 2006, Brenda was named one of "The Great 100" Nurses of North Carolina by the grassroots peer recognition organization that honors the nursing profession in North Carolina each year. Linda made the list in 2011. Both have also received the Tammy Bernhardt Nursing Excellence Award: Linda in 2004 and Brenda in 2006. The recognition is awarded to a nurse nominated by their peers for dedication to nursing and is given in honor of Tammy Bernhardt, a former nurse who set an example of service excellence through exceptional care.
Love for service
When asked what keeps them engaged in nursing after nearly four decades, the twins point to their connections with patients and their relationships with co-workers.
"You don't do this kind of work for material reasons," Linda said. "It's a spiritual calling and a ministry. I want to help as many people as I can."
Brenda shared that while the hours can be long and the work challenging, "At the end of the day, when a patient says, 'Thank you,' or 'You've helped me through my pain,' it's worth it."
They both said patients teach you how to appreciate life, and how to live well and with gratitude.
Co-workers and team members are just as important to their long, fulfilling careers. "You can't be an island in this profession," Brenda said. "I wouldn't still be here if not for the kindness and support of my co-workers over the years."
Linda agreed. "I'm going on a mission trip to Guatemala in July, and Novant Health supports me in that. We're like a team, really, like a family. The support we receive has made all the difference in how long we've been here."