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An example to her students

After 30 years of teaching, she still rises before dawn

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May 14, 2009
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Faculty Honoree: Dr. Barbara Giguere

Barbara Giguere wrote her doctoral thesis on nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale, and for many students over her nearly 30-year teaching career, Giguere has been a similarly inspiring and illuminating influence. "Ask anyone who has attended Worcester State College as far back as 20 years and they all say the same thing, 'Is Barbara Giguere still teaching med/surg? I love her so much, she was so amazing,'" wrote Shaun L'Esperance in his essay nominating Giguere for the Salute to Nurses faculty honor. Seven other current medical/surgical students also proposed Giguere for the award, in recognition of her commitment and experience.

As a lecturer, Giguere is outstanding, says L'Esperance, 22, from Millbury, a senior who hopes eventually to become an Advanced Nurse Practitioner. With more than four decades of practice to draw on, Giguere keeps students "awake, alert, engaged, and excited about what they're learning" by seasoning her teaching with real-life examples from her experience in emergency medicine, intensive care, and medical surgical nursing, says L'Esperance.

"I always see students in her office," says Nursing Department Chair Andrea Wallen. "She's an incredibly dedicated faculty member and an expert teacher. She goes that extra mile." Giguere also puts in extra time. She routinely starts classes half an hour early to make sure there is time to cover the material thoroughly. "And the students are there," Wallen marvels.

The extra time is needed, says Giguere, who has seen the nursing profession change radically since she received her diploma in 1960 from the Worcester City Hospital School of Nursing. "The technology has exploded within the last 20 years," she says, speaking by telephone from her home in Southbridge, where she's busy grading papers. "These kids have to know so much more than we did."

Shaun L'Esperance sees it differently. "I'm fascinated with the old school of nurses," he says. In many ways, he thinks, they had greater responsibility in areas like sterilizing needles in the pre-disposable era, or manually setting IV drips. "They had to set the drip rate by the second hand on their watch," he says. "We just grab a bag, spike it, and hang it."

Two days a week, Giguere's clinical students are expected to be at UMass Medical Center by 5:30 a.m., more than an hour before the morning shift begins. But they don't mind, says junior Amy Bergstrom, 25, of Northborough, because their professor has been there since 3:30 a.m. in order to go through patients' charts and choose the right subjects for each of the six students in the group. When the students arrive, "we have a good hour to read charts and look through meds and lab reports," says Bergstrom.

"It's so much better for the patient," says Bergstrom, who also appreciates Giguere's holistic approach to nursing. "Her focus is on caring for the patient, not the illness," says Bergstrom. "It's such a nice model to follow." Giguere developed that model while studying the work of hospital reformer Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), whose systematic study of hospital organization and revolution of nursing practices laid the foundations for the modern profession in England.

"I love that woman," says Giguere, who finds Nightingale's ideas about the importance of the environment and nursing to the healing process as relevant today as during the mid-nineteenth century Crimean War, when Nightingale famously reduced mortality rates in army hospitals by rigorous attention to discipline, hygiene, and sanitation. "Medicine takes out bullets and sets bones, but nursing puts the person in a condition to heal," says Giguere, paraphrasing her heroine.

Giguere says she never imagined that she would become a professor of nursing. But in 1980 a former teacher invited her to teach a class on community health nursing at Worcester State. "I tried it, I loved it, and I never left it," says Giguere. And for that, generations of nursing students, not to mention their patients, can be grateful.