A Conversation with Sheila Burns

Sheila Burns, RN, is a Labor and Delivery nurse at Allina Health’s Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. Originally from Minnesota, she began her nursing career in Houston in 1999 before returning to Minneapolis and joining Abbott Northwestern Hospital in 2001. In the following, she talks about her personal satisfaction working with expectant mothers and their newborns.

What inspired you to become a nurse?

My aunt is a labor and delivery nurse. She had a real passion for what she did, and that certainly influenced me. But initially I didn’t consider nursing. In high school, I thought of being a veterinarian. I went to college at Texas Woman’s University in Houston without a specific major in mind, and even considered computer science and potentially working for NASA. But then I took a women’s study class and did a paper on midwifery. That paper really directed me to becoming a labor and delivery nurse.

What is a typical shift like for you?

I have worked every shift, both night and day. I now work an eight-hour day shift. Nearly 50 percent of my time is in triage evaluating patients. The rest of the time is spent in the operating room for C-sections, in the delivery room, or at the patient’s bedside.

What is the most satisfying part of your job?

The best part of my job is when I help bring in a new life. The delivery process has changed a bit over the years. It used to be that we would first clean and wrap the baby and then hand the child to their mother. Now we try to ensure there is skin-to-skin contact with mother and child immediately after birth. Being a part of the experience still feels good after 20 years

How has work changed since the pandemic?

There is a greater focus on personal protective equipment and social distancing. It takes more time and staff now with donning and doffing for the patient’s safety and our own safety. We also have had to limit the number of visitors to one per patient room. In the delivery room, social distancing can be difficult; we are always within three feet of each other. Overall, there is a certain level of personal loss because I’m not by the patient bedside as much as before.

What do you do to find calm or rejuvenate yourself at work?

I often go outside to our patio for lunch. We have a small break room where I sometimes go to be alone and contemplate. I like to do some deep breathing, just to be present in the moment—even when I’m in the delivery room. The energy in the room can be amazing, so deep breathing helps. You have to get your ego out of the way. As a nurse, I’m there to facilitate the process, so the calmer I am, the better I can help the mother.

What do you want to tell young people seeking a nursing career?

As a nurse, you must be a team member, a unifier, and keep the patient at the center of care. Being present with the patient is the essence of true nursing.

If not a nurse, what would you be?

I would probably be a chef. I love to cook. I don’t necessarily have a specialty. I like to try new things, and they usually turn out well, according to my children.

About the Series

The World Health Organization (W.H.O) has designated 2020 the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. Over the next several months, we will celebrate nurses’ contributions to the healthcare profession through a series of conversations with top nurse across specialties. Read previous posts in the series, Celebrating the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, A Conversation with Sarah A. Cypher, and A Conversation with Allie Janous.