In her mind’s eye, Kathy Patenaude can still see the Lou Gehrig’s patients she cared for at the Veteran’s Administration in the late 1970s. At the time, she was a young graduate nurse fresh out of Laboure College in Dorchester, MA.
“It was sad because they were fully alert, but their bodies were failing them,” says Patenaude, recalling one man who would light up when his wife and children visited, even though he was too weak to touch them. “I could see his wife trying to hold it all together, pretending things were normal.”
For the next 20-plus years, Patenaude practiced nursing in various settings, while she and her husband raised three children. But her primary love turned out to be emergency nursing. “It’s always changing, always challenging. You never know what’s going to come through the door next,” she says.
Compassion for those she treats and passion for what she does seem to define Patenaude, who has been teaching full-time at Rivier since 2003. Her progression from V.A. nurse to emergency department nurse and eventually to the classroom has been a steady evolution. She lights up—even after 30 years in the profession—when she says, “I absolutely love teaching and nursing. I can’t imagine my life without the two.”
After her early experience at the Veterans Administration, Patenaude worked for many years as a registered nurse in the emergency department at Saints Memorial Hospital in Lowell. She also held positions in rehabilitation and long term care while her children were young. “Nursing gave me a lot of flexibility to be with my family,” she says.
Still, like most working mothers, she constantly juggled her professional life with the demands of her home life. “I always knew the importance of furthering my education,” says Patenaude, adding that her chance to pursue an advanced degree didn’t come until after nearly 20 years in the field. Even then, she had to manage her roles as wife, mother, and full-time nurse, working the 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. shift while completing her bachelor’s degree at Rivier in 2000. She went on to earn a master’s degree in nursing at Rivier in 2003 and last year, became one of only two nurses in the State at the time to be certified as a nurse educator by the National League for Nursing.
Through the years, Patenaude realized she had a gift for teaching, a trait that her professors and colleagues also recognized and encouraged. In 2000, she answered the calling when she accepted a teaching position at the Saint Joseph School of Practical Nursing. “That job became an important part of who I am,” she says.
Today, Patenaude teaches classes in nursing fundamentals, pharmacology, and medical-surgical nursing to men and women in Rivier’s undergraduate nursing program. “I really believe I’m here to facilitate learning, not to feed information to my students,” she says. “I tell students, ‘I expect 100 percent from you and I expect 100 percent from me. They need to be engaged in the learning process. ” Occasionally students get frustrated when she turns one of their questions around and asks, “What do you think?”
At the same time, her biggest rewards come from students’ successes. “When they come back after graduation and tell us about their accomplishments – the jobs they’ve landed, the people they’ve worked with, and the dreams they’ve realized—that’s the best,” she beams.