‘Nurse Betty’ continues to shine in medical field

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By DARRELL JACKSON, Staff Writer

Photo by Darrell Jackson
Betty Schley, 72, continues to work as a nurse at Banner Thunderbird Hospital after more than 50 years of service in the medical field.

“When I started in a 32-bed hospital, everything was glass and we had to clean it, but now it is all plastic and you throw it away. I tell them that we had to make mustard plaster for heating pads and nurses will look at me and laugh and ask what it is.” - Betty Schley

Betty Schley graduated with her licensed practical nurse degree in 1965, launching a career that for most people would now be close to retirement time, but Schley doesn’t see an end to an amazing life.

“I know why old people die when they retire because they don’t have anything to do,” Schley said during a recent sit-down interview. “I tried to retire a few years ago and went home to Canada to live with my sister and I lasted about five months before coming back to what I love.”

She grew up in Canada and said she realized in second grade that she wanted to be a nurse, even though it may have been an accident.

“I was the youngest of four children and I was just always fixing things,” she said. “Fixing my and my siblings’ dolls and stuffed animals to make them better and that was basically it, I just knew in my heart that I wanted to be a nurse who helped people.”

She graduated from Okanagan College in British Columbia in 1965 with her LPN, but was kept from finishing her education immediately, before returning years later to complete her registered nursing (RN) degree in 1990.

“Life happened, I was married for a number of years and raised a son and daughter, working evening shifts to accommodate my family,” she said. 

She started her career 53 years ago in adult rehabilitation and has worked in adult medical surgery, neurosurgery, emergency room to pediatrics. At Banner Thunderbird, where she has been for two years, she has continued in the pediatric department because she says she felt it was where she was needed.

“Rehabilitation was the most fulfilling because you see the patients get better and walk out of the hospital and you know you made a difference,” she said. “I remember that I wanted to experience everything I could, so I worked anywhere I could to learn.”

Schley said the profession has changed so much over the years, which she likes to tell younger incoming nurses how far things have come for them.

“When I started in a 32-bed hospital, everything was glass and we had to clean it, but now it is all plastic and you throw it away,” Schley said. “I tell them that we had to make mustard plaster for heating pads and nurses will look at me and laugh and ask what it is.”

She said nurses today look shocked when she mentions things such as leech therapy and smoking in patients rooms and has earned the nickname ‘Nurse Betty’ from the staff from her stories of the past.

“When I mention leech therapy, they look shocked and say I’m crazy but it was a proven therapy,” Schley said. “Smoking was also allowed in the old days and we actually had bags for ashes taped alongside the beds in the rooms.”

She added that in her down time, she is up to trying anything and has, including sky diving and hiking the Grand Canyon, as well as Machu Picchu. She wanted to do something special for her 70th birthday, but missed it, so has one big adventure planned for next year.

“I am going to hike Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa in February,” Schley said. “I went on safari with a nurse friend and I said I wanted to climb Kilimanjaro, so I am going to do it.”

She said she sees no end in sight and loves what she does and the camaraderie with her fellow workers, even though the job can be stressful and demanding.

“I love the people I work with and love doing what I do, so I will work as long as they want me and don’t kick me out,” Schley said. “It is tough losing a patient, and every nurse loses patients, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

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Peoria Times
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