86-Years Young, with a Lifelong Passion for Nursing

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By Melissa Wirkus, contributor

January 18, 2012 - There are few professions that allow a person to travel to Alaska, California and Saudi Arabia, and even fewer that provide opportunities to work in settings including prisons and clinics.

But for Jim Harwood, an 86-year-old retired RN, nursing allowed him to do all that, plus so much more.

What started out as a routine discovery call for Nursefinders recruiter Amy Corzine, turned into a story of inspiration and raw passion for the profession of nursing. Corzine was calling nurses off of a list when she came across Jim, who was anything but your typical retired nurse.

"Normally, when I speak to an elderly nurse they’re happily retired but Jim is always on the lookout for a new opportunity," she said.  "He stated he walks with a cane, so he’ll need a sedentary position."

"It was so inspirational to speak with someone who had such a passion for nursing. He just told me, 'If I could, I would go right now back to nursing.' He just absolutely loved it and you could tell it was something that he was so proud of and took so much pride in."

Jim's nursing career has been anything but ordinary, and even the way he started out in the profession was unique. "My son was going to nursing school and he liked it. So, I was working at a Datsun dealer, and I quit the dealer and went to school with him," Harwood recalled.

After graduation, Harwood started his 36-year nursing career at a hospital in Palm Springs, Calif., where he worked in the ER and ICU.

"I liked medicine okay, but I didn't like surgery and I didn't like surgeons," Harwood said with a laugh when explaining the reason behind his chosen specialties. "I like blood and guts."

After working in Palm Springs, Harwood's wife was transferred to Las Vegas, Nev., for work, where he soon took nursing positions in both a hospital and a prison.

Harwood's affable personality quickly made him popular among even the toughest criminals, as he recalls his experiences with several prisoners.

"I passed out medication, and one of the nicer guys I had to give medicine to was called 'Killer' by the other prisoners. At 4 o'clock in the morning he had to have a special kind of medicine, and I would take it up to his cell and I'd say, 'Killer, are you awake?' And he would say, 'Yes Mr. Jim, I'll be right there.' And he was the most polite man I had to deal with. It's funny how things work out like that."

Following his nursing work in Las Vegas, Harwood took his nursing career to Alaska, Missouri and Saudi Arabia.

"I worked in Alaska as charge nurse in evenings for two years, and I have to say that my time in Alaska was probably the most productive. I have taken care of any kind of case you can imagine," he said.

He then applied for an international position with American Medical International, and jetted-off to Saudi Arabia where he worked as a clinical coordinator. "I enjoyed my time in Saudi Arabia, I was treated very kindly."

Harwood finished his prolific nursing career working for a VA hospital in Kansas City, and like most dedicated nurses, when looking back on his career, the thing that still matters to Jim the most is the patients.

"My favorite part of being a nurse has been patient care," he said. "I really like patients, I like to talk to them and interact with them. I have met so many interesting people, I am a people person."

For Corzine, a simple conversation is now one that inspires her and solidifies her own passion for her work.

"I love what I do and I love talking to nurses and it was just really inspiring to talk to him," she said. "He said it's so nice to know that people are still needing nurses and that nursing is a profession that will never go away."

"He truly had this heart for caregiving and caring for others and I just thought that was incredible. People in the hospital sometimes are at their lowest of lows and you want somebody with that compassion that really wants the best for you, and I really felt like Jim was that true caregiver."

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