MID-CITY — Barbara Browning always wanted to be a nurse.
As a little girl watching her aunt dress in her nursing uniform, Browning knew one day she would do the same.
However, as a child she was unaware of the impact she would make on nursing — an impact that led to her being honored Saturday at the Santa Monica Red Cross’s Red Tie Affair at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel. At the dinner, Browning received the Rick Crocker Spirit of Volunteerism Award, which recognizes a community volunteer in memory of Santa Monica police officer Rick Crocker, who was killed while on patrol in Iraq.
“I’m honored and humbled,” Browning said last week during an interview at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital, where she has worked since graduating from nursing school in 1965.
She said she feels as though others who have won Red Cross awards have done much more than she, but Browning has had her fair share of accomplishments.
She moved to Santa Monica after nursing school with 10 classmates to work at Santa Monica-UCLA. She said they liked the idea of living near the beach, and if they worked there for two years, they would get back a portion of their tuition.
Browning never planned on staying at the hospital for more than a few years because she enjoys trying new things, but found new opportunities continued coming her way, keeping her content.
“I love my job,” Browning said. “I’ve never had a job in nursing that I haven’t loved.”
As a nurse, Browning undertook projects as different hot topics began receiving attention in her field, demanding new programs at the hospital. In the 1960s, she organized the first mother-baby class while working as the Postpartum Unit and Nursery head nurse. In the 1970s, she created the hospital’s first medication administration course for licensed vocational nurses. In 1975, she established the Westside’s first Oncology Unit, which was expanded to include AIDS patients in the 1980s. In 1982, Browning began working on her favorite project — Hospice in Home, a program she created with Pastor Bob Richards to care for cancer and AIDS patients.
“I’ve enjoyed every aspect of nursing, but oncology and end of life issues really strike me, and my heart went into it,” Browning said. “It was that continuity through the end of it, it really captured me.”
She said at the point that patients reach hospice care, they have what they need in terms of medicine and doctors. However, they and their families are often overwhelmed by the transitional process and the daily tasks they must do. Hospice workers support the medical and emotional needs of the patient and family. She plans to focus more time in her retirement on securing volunteers for Hospice in Home.
In 1990, Browning took her nursing skills and dedication to patient programs to the administrative side of the hospital, although the transition was not easy.
“It was hard,” Browning said. “I remember sitting in my office the first day I got the desk job and I said, ‘What do I do now?’”
Soon, however, she had her hands full with patient safety, risk management, infection control, and more as director of quality assurance.
As an administrator, Browning continued to innovate new programs and practices for patients, such as the Palliative Care Program to address end-of-life needs and the Center for Humane and Ethical Care at the hospital. She also works to provide medical care for homeless patients and is active in Santa Monica’s annual American Cancer Society “Relay for Life.”
Browning said she is able to manage her work and continue to accomplish new goals thanks to those around her.
“Everybody I’ve worked with is supportive, I’ve had supportive friends and family,” Browning said. “You put all of that support together, you can’t help but make it through.”
She also finds support in prayer, and mentioned that her spirituality is very important to her.
When Browning is not at work with other hospital staff, which she said is like one big family, she spends her time volunteering with the Santa Monica Red Cross or in the company of her friends and church. She loves the community feel of Santa Monica, and how no matter where you go, people know your name. Perhaps Browning’s friendly demeanor when out and about in Santa Monica stems from her years as a nurse, and how she believes a nurse should behave.
The best nurse is “someone who cares, who sincerely cares, who treats the patients as they would want to be treated and willing to go the extra mile,” Browning said. “Because what you get back from that is much more than the couple minutes you spent.”