You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
in any direction you choose.
Oh, the Places You’ll Go
Judy Brueck had been a nurse for 20 years when Dr. Seuss published “Oh,
the Places You Will Go.” But she refers to the book as the theme
of her 50-year career. The longest-tenured employee in Great River Medical
Center’s history will retire Aug. 7.
“When I got to 45 years, I thought, What’s five more?’,”
said Brueck, who will reach the milestone anniversary July 27.
(JoEllen Hoth, MD, who retired Jan. 1, 2019, was on the hospital’s
medical staff for 50 years, but she wasn’t an employee.)
Nursing by heart
If Brueck wrote an autobiography is Seussian style, would begin, in her
I cleaned houses …
But it was nursing that captured her heart.
Brueck was a candy striper at Keokuk’s former Graham Hospital when
the Keokuk National Guard Armory blew up during a Thanksgiving eve dance
in 1965. Twenty-one people died from the explosion or burns, and another
19 were injured.
The hospital became a burn unit for patients who weren’t transferred
out of town. Sixteen-year-old Brueck cleaned and refilled linen carts,
stocked sterile supplies, passed water to patients, directed visitors
and volunteered for any task she could do. The experience solidified her
decision to become a nurse.
When she was a high school senior, Brueck began taking classes at Southeastern
Community College’s Keokuk campus, which adjoins Keokuk High School.
She finished licensed practical nursing classes in downtown Burlington
through SCC, which was still developing its campus in West Burlington.
“I started at $2.84 hour without benefits because nurses were supposed
to be married to men who had benefits at their jobs,” Brueck said.
She worked nights in the Emergency Department and Intensive Care Unit
for 10 years.
“It worked well for me,” she said. “My two sisters were
in high school when I started working, and my mom was ill. We all helped
take care of my mom, and I watched over my sisters.”
Brueck’s sister Paula Willoughby-DeJesus also received a nursing
degree from SCC, and then earned a medical degree. She has been an emergency
physician at Great River Medical Center for about 10 years. Their other
sister, Julia Dean, is deceased.
While working nights, Brueck earned her registered nurse diploma from SCC
in 1979. In 2005, she received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Western
Always a nurse
You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sites!
You’ll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights!
“From the start, I knew I wanted to stay a long time and work in
many places,” Brueck said.
Besides the ED and ICU, she worked in the inpatient Oncology Unit, Home
Health and Case Management. She will end her career as quality improvement
coordinator in the Quality Resources Department, a position she has held
for the last 16 years.
In a simple explanation of a not-so-simple job, Brueck reports Great River
Medical Center’s outcomes for specific diagnoses, including sepsis,
obstetrics and blood clots, to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid
Services (CMS). The quality of the hospital’s services determines
the amount of money the federal government reimburses for medical care.
Occasionally, Brueck’s work is selected for validation, which is
similar to an IRS tax audit. Her average accuracy rate for validation
reports is 98%.
“I’m the only one who does this, so I can’t blame the
night shift,” she said of her work.
“We will truly miss Judy’s leadership and attention to detail.
Her role is critical for our quality image to the public,” said
Lisa Griswold, director, Quality Resources. “She reviews documentation
and enters our results into a tool that demonstrates our compliance with
CMS standards of care. This information is then displayed to the public
on HospitalCompare.gov. While doing all of these reviews, Judy provides
feedback to providers and clinical leaders to improve our performance.”
In five decades of nursing, Brueck’s greatest frustration is this:
“People ask me if I miss nursing. I have always been a nurse. I
still am a nurse. I am still taking care of patients, but in a different
way. I have to keep up my licensure to do my job. My job keeps patients
here and it helps improves policy. We need to embrace versatility in nursing.
There are many roles for nurses. That’s my major soapbox.”
Although nursing careers can vary, compassion is the greatest skill, according
“You either have it or you don’t. One of the biggest fallacies
they tell you in nursing school is, Don’t become attached to your
patients. You have to. If you don’t become attached, you don’t
belong in nursing. I still see patients who remember me from more than
20 year ago. They become part of your family.”
Brueck encourages her family members to become nurses, and she is pleased
that several of her husband’s grandchildren are nurses.
“I was blessed to have pinned one of them,” she said of the
ceremony in which nursing students choose someone to accompany them on
stage during graduation. A faculty member gives that person the pin, who
presents it to the new graduate as a symbolic welcome into the profession.
Ready for retirement
Brueck and her husband of seven years, Bob, prepared for retirement by
moving into a condo in downtown Burlington’s Schramm Building two
years ago. Their second-floor balcony overlooks Jefferson Street.
“Our cocker spaniel, Poncho, Bob and I are big people watchers, so
we love living downtown,” she said. “We had a 3,250-square-foot
house. We decided it was time to move when we realized we hadn’t
been to the back of our house for over two months.”
Although she doesn’t like cooking, Brueck enjoys setting a nice table
with placemats and cloth napkins for every meal – even carryout.
It’s a throwback from working for a well-to-do family in Keokuk
as a teenager. She says, “It’s always been my gig.”
Besides, enjoying her balcony – often with a glass of wine or beer
in her hand, Brueck will remain president of the Des Moines County Civil
Service Commission. She enjoys reading and being with her family, which
includes her son, Johnathon, and husband’s children and grandchildren.
Although she’s ready to end a career that has lasted half a century,
Brueck’s Aug. 7 farewell will be especially difficult during the
“I’ve made friends for life here,” she said. “No
hugs will be hard.”
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will indeed!
(98 ¾ percent guaranteed.)
50 Years of Fun
After being a nurse for 50 years, Judy Brueck can’t single out a
“I don’t have one. All are very different, she said. “At
the time, it’s the best, but another one comes and it’s the
best in a different way. They all help you grow.”
Known for her humor, Brueck shared a couple of funny stories from her career:
Judy helps a patient escape
“When I was working nights, I helped my patient escape. It was 2
a.m., and an elderly man dressed in a sports coat and wearing glasses
asked me how to get out of the hospital. (Patients look different when
they’re wearing clothes!) I showed him the elevator and told him
how to get out.
“Later, I went to his room and he was gone, and I knew what had happed.
We got a call from a police officer who found a man with a hospital gown
sticking out of his pants and sport coat at Lamb’s Diner a few blocks
away. The officer said he would return the patient when the man finished
drinking his coffee.”
Boss’ wreath makes a nice hat
“Teresa Colgan was the new director of Quality Resources. [Colgan
is now Chief Clinical Officer]. The Gift Shop was having an Easter bonnet
decorating contest, and Linda Voigt and I took a huge wreath off the wall
in Teresa’s office when she was gone. We decorated it with flowers
we found on a housekeeping cart and other stuff we picked up. I put it
on my head and entered the contest as a joke.
“We ended up winning prize! We pleaded with the gift shop manager
to not post the photo because Teresa would find out! We ended up having
to tell her.”