Mother and daughters closer to patients, each other with shared career paths | Ascension

Mother and daughters closer to patients, each other with shared career paths

Respiratory therapist Melanie Northcutt’s passion for her career led two of her three children, Alyssa Hemberger and Haley Northcutt, to join her in serving at Ascension Via Christi.

Northcutt, who has served at Ascension Via Christi since 1987, has been part of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and neonatal transport team for the past 25 years.

Hemberger, a registered nurse, began working alongside her mother in the NICU at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph nine years ago. “Mom would often whisk away, hop on a plane and help save a baby. While we missed her, at a young age I clearly remember understanding how she was a part of something bigger than all of us. Her career was truly a higher calling, and I was in awe of her. Families had the chance to be 'whole' because of her skills. I have always wanted to be able to give families that same thing, a chance at life with their healthy baby. She motivated me to go into nursing,” she says.

“I grew up watching my mom and dad, Dave, work in healthcare and loved listening to their stories about how they were able to help people and the relationships they built between patients and co-workers. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to do the same,” says Haley Northcutt, PA, who has served alongside Ascension Medical Group Via Christi OB/GYNs since October 2020. It also inspired her middle child, Erika Nolte, to pursue a research career in neurobiology.

“Seeing my parents help find answers for patients and physicians, I think my career in science has taught me that as much as we think we know, there is so much more that we aren’t even close to understanding. My career has taught me a great respect for expertise and knowledge,” says Erika Nolte, a senior scientific writer at the Houston Methodist Academic Institute.

Melanie, Alyssa and Haley, who currently all provide care to Ascension Via Christi mothers and their babies, agree that the field has been extremely rewarding.

“I love the relationships I build with my patients; I am grateful for the ability to make my patients feel heard – Pregnancy is a very difficult time for many women, it comes with a lot of uncertainty for patients no matter what their background is,” says Haley.

“I love helping moms hold their baby for the first time, empowering parents to be educated, confident, and competent in caring for their baby, and seeing them go home,” says Alyssa. “There is nothing better than when our NICU warriors come back to visit, giving big hugs! Seeing them grow up to be ornery, rambunctious kids is wonderful!”

Melanie agrees. “It was very fulfilling to go get sick babies from all over the state and bring them to a higher level of care to help them get to go home and grow up healthy.”

All four of them agree that their careers and careers like theirs are especially for those who wish to continuously learn, grow, develop, work in a team and serve those who need them most.

“I did my degree in neurobiology, intending to become a neurologist, but while researching in an autism lab, I decided I wanted to go into a more research-focused track instead,” says Erika, who found interest in neurobiology by volunteering. “I realized that there was so much we didn’t know about the brain that I wouldn’t be able to answer as a physician. As a researcher, I could find those answers.”

Alyssa highlights the importance of teamwork in the NICU setting. “We are blessed to have an exceptional team of neonatologists, nurse practitioners, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, occupational therapists, nutritionists and techs! It takes every single one of us to get a preemie home, and I'm honored to be a part of this team. Caring for the premature and sick babies of our community is a responsibility we do not take lightly.”

Haley is thankful to be surrounded by doctors and other caregivers who take the time to teach. “I have learned that no matter how long I am in the medical field, I will never stop learning. It is truly a challenge day in and day out but I am growing as a person and medical provider every day. I am blessed to be surrounded by amazing physicians and other medical professionals that help me to learn and be better each day as well.”

Melanie knows how dedication and team-based care can help create a family in the workplace. “The NICU is a hard place to work, emotionally, and taking care of premature babies takes a special team. Our RTs give everything they have to those kids every day. It’s like a little family up there and I truly appreciate the NICU team I work with every day.”

Working together, either side-by-side or in a distanced collaboration, has helped them become closer as a family and improve their clinical skills.

“Once people realize we have that relationship in the hospital, I hear such positive comments about Haley and Alyssa and the care they provide,” says Melanie.

Alyssa is thankful for the shared understanding about being a caregiver. “Caring for the same patients through their pregnancy, delivery and NICU journey is very rewarding. On the good days and the bad days, we can truly understand what each other are feeling. We can celebrate, comfort, and lift each other up. Having our supportive family means everything. Our mom set the example of service, excellence and hard work that we try to emulate for every patient.”

Though not in as close proximity to the three of them in Wichita, Erika still leans on them for support. “In my role, I often work with clinicians, which is an arena with which I’m very unfamiliar. It has been really cool to be able to call my mom or one of my sisters and ask, ‘Hey how do you handle this? What do you think the hardest part of this is?’ and get some feedback that can help me do my job better.”

Haley appreciates how the commonality of service to others has brought them closer together. “As medical professionals, we all have the desire to help others. We are not in these professions for ourselves but because we desire to help people, to leave our patients better than when we found them. I love when my patients come to me and excitedly say, ‘I saw your mom/sister the other day!’ and typically it's followed by a kind compliment.”

With Alyssa having small children of her own now, Melanie’s seen how her role as a mother and caregiver has come full circle.

“When I had to travel, work or be on call, I felt guilty and worried about leaving them. As they’ve grown up, they looked at that as an honor and they were proud of me. They don’t remember me not being there for holidays and weekends; they just remember me taking care of babies. To realize that and pass that on to Haley and our younger generations as they navigate it has been a blessing.”

With that being said, Melanie’s found one piece of advice she most often shares with those around her to help them stay grateful and positive, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic coming to no end anytime soon.

“Be proud of your profession and the difference you make every single day. Celebrate the wins, cherish the relationships you develop with your patients and their families and know you are needed and appreciated.”

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