After 45 years, veteran nurse still answers the call
The distinctive ‘cupcake’ hats may be gone, but Nancy Marlett’s focus on patients has never gone out of style.
Johnny Woodhouse Published: 4/25/2018
The universal symbol of nursing is prominently displayed in Nancy Marlett’s office. The white nurse’s cap, a holdover from her days as a graduate nurse at Prince George’s Hospital outside Washington, D.C., sits on a pedestal of textbooks atop a file cabinet.
Back when Marlett went to nursing school, a nurse’s cap was a mandatory part of the uniform. The caps went out of fashion in the 1980s, but once a year, during National Nurses Week, she wears the cap proudly while making her nursing rounds at Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville.
“Everybody looks at me three times,” said Marlett, who also sports an all-while nursing uniform during Nurses Week. “The patients always say, ‘Hey, it’s a real nurse.’ ”
A nurse was all Marlett ever wanted to be. The Maryland native spent two years as a medical assistant before enrolling at Prince George’s, an acute care teaching hospital just outside the nation’s capital. For $50 a year in 1972, aspiring nurses received free uniforms, lunch and bus fare.
“We spent half the day in class and the other half in the hospital,” recalled Marlett, now in her 45th year in nursing. “Everyone in my class graduated and we all passed our boards on the first try.”
Marlett worked at Prince George’s for 18 years, including three in pediatrics. She’s spent the bulk of her career in critical care, including a 20-year stint as a nurse manager of an emergency room, before coming to Baptist Jacksonville in 2008 as nurse manager of endoscopy, the examination of the inside of the body using special instruments. She was recently named associate director of Baptist Heart Hospital.
“Leaving the ER was one of the hardest decisions I ever made, but sometimes you feel like it’s time for a change,” said Marlett, the daughter of a World War II Army medic. “My question to myself was ‘Why did you become a nurse?’ And the answer was to take care of patients.’ ”
A black-and-white photo of Marlett from her days at Prince George’s hangs on a wall in her office. In the photo, Marlett is standing at the foot of a patient’s bed, charting on a small table. She’s wearing a short white dress and a “cupcake-style” nurse’s cap, the kind made famous at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, the first training school for nurses in the U.S. The photo says a lot about Marlett: a throwback to the days when nurses wore all white and proudly sported distinctive caps and nursing school pins on their uniforms.
“I didn’t go to nursing school because I wanted a job, I went because I wanted to be a nurse,” she explained. “And I was going to do whatever it took to become one. Nursing isn’t what I do. It’s who I am.”