Growing up watching her mother working as a nurse while raising eight children taught Carol Luckey that she could do anything if she worked hard enough. Her mother's stories about nursing interested Luckey enough to leave her hometown of Chillicothe, Missouri to enroll in Barnes School of Nursing in St. Louis.
"We worked at Barnes Hospital from the second week after school started," she says. "Student nurses were the charge nurses at night, but we could call a nursing supervisor if we have any questions or issues. We learned a lot."
That experience and the Barnes name opened doors, Luckey says. "As a graduate from Barnes School of Nursing, we could work anywhere in nursing. We were hired right away because they knew our experience was very good."
After her 1959 nursing school graduation, Luckey was hired at St. Louis Children's Hospital as a staff nurse on the school-aged division. Six months later, she was promoted to head nurse of the ER and clinics. She stayed at St. Louis Children's for 30 years in various leadership roles.
Yet a lot happened in those three decades. Nearly 20 years after her graduation, Luckey received her Bachelor of Science in nursing as the field evolved.
She soon decided to continue her education with a Master of Science in nursing to become a clinical nurse specialist (CNS). She worked part-time while she pursued her degree. At the same time, Luckey and her husband adopted two sons and then gave birth to a daughter within two and a half years.
"I was really busy and didn't sleep a lot," Luckey recalls. "I would study, write a paper after the kids were in bed, and get to bed around 3 a.m. When I finished graduate school, I felt like I had a lot of time on my hands."
Luckey was grateful for her husband, Bob, who supported her through her educational endeavors. "He saw it as an investment and took care of the children a lot while I was in school."
Thankfully, their hectic lifestyle was only temporary. "The achievement I'm most proud of is my master's degree. When I started my nursing education, there was no clinical nurse specialist option. That was a big development."
While completing her advanced degree, Luckey gained extensive research experience, although nursing research was rare at the time. Research is the "R" in her credentials.
She has been published several times and has served as column editor for the Journal of Pediatric Nursing.
When she finished her CNS in 1983, she took on more responsibilities at St. Louis Children's Hospital including handling all the accreditations for the hospital. She also interviewed nurses to hire.
"Back then nurses could just walk in and be interviewed on the spot," Luckey says.
Her next challenge was serving as co-chair of a committee responsible for moving patients from the old St. Louis Children's building into a newly built replacement facility that opened in 1984.
"It was a lot of work," she says. "We moved 100 patients in wheelchairs and beds from the old hospital to the new one. But it was a smooth move."
Both the community and the hospital employees raised funds for the new hospital. Luckey coordinated the employee fundraising portion. "Employees gave part of their paycheck to the building fund and we exceeded our fundraising goal," she says. "It allowed employees to be part of it, which was a real plus. The new hospital was marvelous. It had lots of space and included an operating room, which we never had before."
In 1987, Luckey retired from St Louis Children's after nearly 30 years.
"I had wonderful years spent at St. Louis Children's with unique patients and diagnoses," she says. "I made a lot of friends in nursing school and at the hospital who are still my friends. Pediatrics was always a close-knit group and we had good relationships with the doctors, researchers and other nurses."
But her retirement didn't last. "I didn't have enough to do, and I missed nursing," Luckey says.
For a year, she was a substitute school nurse.
Back in the rhythm of nursing, Luckey was soon contacted by a nurse friend who worked at the Division of Youth Services. The organization needed help providing health assessments for teens.
Her position quickly grew into a full-time role that lasted seven years. During that time, she streamlined processes and set up programs for youth to receive medical care including evaluations, immunizations, eye exams, dental care and counseling.
"Some kids had never seen a doctor before," Luckey says. "I enjoyed working with the youth."
Luckey finally fully retired in 2000 so she could travel and volunteer more at her church and in the community. Following her passion for helping children, she taught new mothers how to care for their newborns in one of her volunteer roles.
Last year she was able to apply her nursing skills to her most important patient, her husband, after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
"With support from my children and hospice care, I was able to care for Bob for two months at home because of my nursing skills," Luckey says.