Carolynn Blackwell Hoffman graduated from the Jewish Hospital School of Nursing in 1966. After nearly 20 years as a nurse, she started her own business in 1985. Originally called CompreHealth, Inc., now MediNurse, the company provides a full range of private duty and corporate health services. Through the years, her company has provided Medicare certified home care, hospice services and was the first to provide hospital staffing on a contractual basis. Carolynn said starting a business as a woman was thrilling and scary at the same time. Her company has also been recognized as being among the Top 25 Small Businesses in St. Louis.
Carolynn, who has remained actively involved with the nursing school, was named a Distinguished Alumni by the College for her involvement and many contributions over the years. She is a member of the Goldfarb School of Nursing Board of Trustees and has served on numerous board committees including the Strategic Planning Committee and the Centennial Committee. Carolynn also received the President’s Award in 2002 from the Barnes-Jewish College of Nursing.
Above all, Carolynn says her greatest professional achievement was serving as President of the Jewish Hospital School of Nursing Alumni Association.
Q: What made you want to be a nurse?
A: In the early 1960s, a young woman’s choice of careers was to be a teacher, secretary, nurse or to get married. I had wanted to be a nurse since I was a young girl. When I was young, my dad was in the hospital quite a few times, and I saw first-hand what nurses did. One of them taught me how to wrap my father’s legs with ace bandages in a spiral so they would stay in place, and I loved it. I then volunteered at DePaul Hospital when I was a teenager and became a “Paulette.” I earned my first cap there. My cap and my uniform were robin’s egg blue, and I still have that cap. I loved going to the nursing divisions and helping. Later in high school, I attended a “Nurse for a Day” at Jewish Hospital, and my fate was sealed. Sitting in that classroom listening to the talks about being a nurse, I felt like I was home.
Q: What is your fondest/favorite memory while in school?
A: There were quite a few, but the one I will always remember happened my freshman year the day after our first semester grades came out. I was on a full scholarship and had to maintain at least a B average. I was so relieved to make the grade, but my happiness and relief rapidly turned to disbelief and anger as some of my friends were told they did not make their grades and were out. My friends encouraged me to stay and get my education to become a nurse, but I did not care. If all my friends had to leave, so would I.
The next morning, we were scheduled for a test in Nursing Fundamentals. I got up, put on my uniform, which we wore to class, opened my door, and realized I was the only student left on the entire wing of my floor. The silence was deafening and not one other door opened and every room was empty. I was the sole survivor of the first semester. I went to tell the instructor I was not going to class and would be leaving. She stood up after I said I was leaving, took off her cap and said “come with me.” She walked me around the whole medical complex twice talking to me about how I could not quit. We got back to the school, and she told me to go in the classroom and take the test with the rest of my classmates. I did. Her name was Miss Marjorie VanCleve, and she was the reason I did not go home that morning.
Q: What was your greatest professional achievement?
A: Serving as president of the Jewish Hospital School of Nursing Alumni Association. I had a fantastic Board. Each person who served on the Board was committed and passionate about the School of Nursing and the Association. During my term, we saw membership increase to over 600 using phone-a-thons. We published a quarterly newsletter, initiated an Alumni Honor Roll, and started the Distinguished Alumni Award. We had a special commitment to the students and became big sisters to every freshman. We held group meetings with the non-traditional students (who have become the traditional ones now), had several fundraisers for scholarships, sometimes using fashion shows featuring key hospital department heads, physicians and alumni to raise funds; started the President’s Award, sponsored etiquette classes for all the students, plus other sessions on financial planning and even achieving the professional look with both wardrobe and hair. One year, we had Dr. Faye Abdellah, a pioneer nursing researcher and the first woman to serve as Deputy Surgeon General, speak at our luncheon. Our meetings were fun. Everyone was so excited to see their classmates and friends.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced as a nurse?
A: Being a single mother, working three jobs – two of them in nursing and the third in national marketing – while taking one class at a time to obtain a degree. All this led up to the very biggest challenge I faced, and that was to leave the comfort of Jewish Hospital and venture into the private sector. From that challenge, I faced another one, that being leaving the comfort zone of being an employee and becoming “the employer.” Starting a business as a woman on Valentine’s Day of 1985 was thrilling and scary at the same time. I made up my mind that “failure” was a word that was not in my vocabulary.
Q: What is the best professional advice you received that you can give to a nurse today?
A: Once you graduate, your education is not over; it is just beginning. Nursing changes a lot through the years. Changes can include new machinery, new procedures, breakthroughs in treating different conditions and improvements in technology. The only way to keep up is to read, read, read; go to educational offerings, listen to visiting experts speak throughout the area, ask questions. Don’t be afraid to venture out of your own comfort zone and ask to take care of the most “difficult” or complex diagnosis on the floor. Read up on your patients; be familiar with their drugs—talk to them and even more important, listen to them! In nursing you gain knowledge, education and skills that will last you a lifetime and that you can use within your own family unit or when helping a neighbor or friend. Embrace every opportunity you have to learn, but also embrace every opportunity you have to share your knowledge and experience with others.
Q: How have you stayed engaged with the College?
A: Nursing has been good for, and to, me. So giving back to the College is how I have stayed most engaged. When I could give back, I welcomed the opportunity to do so by donating my time and through financial donations.
Some of the favorite memories I have from donating my time began when I was President of the Jewish Hospital School of Nursing Alumni Association. I was asked by Shirley Cohen, who was very involved with the College, to attend and give alumni reports to members of the Committee on Nursing during their meetings. Shirley later nominated me for a position on the schools’ board of directors. The School became a College and the College celebrated its 100th anniversary. Shirley and I chaired the celebration which we kicked off with a balloon release on Kingshighway during the height of evening traffic. Shirley and I initiated the Alumni Honor Roll, the President’s Award and also the 50-year medallion tradition which was originally bestowed on all 50 years plus graduates by student nurses at a dinner. We also began the tradition of having the 50 year graduates lead the procession at graduation. It makes me very happy that these special honors continue today. Currently, I serve on the Board of Trustees for Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College.
I encourage others to look for opportunities to stay engaged by donating their time and/or through financial donations. It does not have to be year one post-graduation or even year ten or fifteen. It can be later in life when you are able to do so comfortably. My wish is that every graduate feels supported during their time at nursing school, and that they see the work that goes into building traditions, a community within the College and throughout alumni network. Through donating your time and/or financial donations, we can continue to support the nursing profession and help someone else achieve their dream of becoming a nurse.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?
A: When I was elected President of the Jewish Hospital School of Nursing Alumni Association, I called on several dynamic women to learn more about their vision of the Alumni Association. Through the years, they became my mentors and dear friends. I want to publicly acknowledge their support, assistance and love.
Ms. Shirley Cohen: She served on the Board of Directors of the Jewish Hospital School of Nursing up to and including the Board of Trustees at Goldfarb School of Nursing at the Barnes-Jewish College. She received the first President’s Award with Ms. Norma Stern.
Ms. Margie Wolcott May: She is a graduate of the Jewish Hospital School of Nursing and received the first Distinguished Alumni Award.
Ms. Norma Stern: She was a member of the Barnes College of Nursing Board of Directors and the Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College Board of Directors. She received the first President’s Award with Ms. Shirley Cohen.
I also want to acknowledge Ms. Marcia Shapiro and Ms. Peggy Ross who were always available whenever I needed help. They taught me the importance of not only striving to do the things that needed to be done correctly, but to make sure the result was perfect.