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Nurse’s career at Akwesasne was based on patience, respect, compassion

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AKWESASNE - In 1973, a young nurse built the foundation for her career through experience, but in her retirement she reflects the most important lessons learned came from our elders in her early years.

Debbie Martin has dedicated 33 years to caring for the people’s health of Akwesasne. Her first years of nursing were spent in the community, checking on our elders.

The first thing she learned was the bonds she formed were rooted in relationships, family history and the art of listening. Debbie reflects on those visits with a firm commitment to the values she was taught; patience, respect and compassion.

She spent hours talking to elders, and subsequently learned to use her intuition to enhance the skills she was taught in nursing school.

“My patient’s vital signs may have been ok, but I knew our elders wanted to be ‘good patients’ so I had to learn to find ways to make sure they were safe without pushing the envelope.”

The importance of family in our culture is the most critical aspect of our approach to healthcare. Debbie’s wisdom as an elder is woven in the first question she was always asked when she entered a patient’s home, which is now the first question she asks of patients; “How is your family?”

In modern healt hcare, we spend more money, we have more doctors and nurses and the complexity of medicine and extensive diagnostic tools we have cannot compensate for communication between the nurse and the patient.

Communication was of utmost importance then, and it remains the core of effective care-giving. Debbie makes a strong life-long observation that language equals trust.

She remembers a native speaking nurse who translated for a physician and recalls the power of the trust she witnessed in those visits.

Her love for her team is apparent in her actions as she shares her mantra, “community means everything.” Crisis in our community has deep roots; Debbie and her team have a culture of being there for our people, regardless of the time or day.

One memorable employee came in on a Saturday to care for a patient. She held the woman’s hand and assured her she would be there for as long as she needed her. This approach to crisis and hardship is not found just anywhere, but it’s in Akwesasne and it is in the hearts of the Health Services team.

Debbie is excited to transition to retirement, but will forever hold her team of 115 working in 13 divisions, in the highest of regards.

“It is a privilege to be in my position, as I’ve had the latitude to bring visions and innovations to our community, such as Centering for Pregnancy, Trauma Informed Care and Trauma Incident Reduction,” she said.

On the cusp of her retirement, Debbie had the honor of welcoming community and guests to the grand opening of the Diabetes Center For Excellence, her “greatest joy” born of a vision, a community commitment and a need for our fight against the debilitating chronic disease that plagues so many Mohawks, young and old.

Debbie’s retirement was effective Feb. 7. Debbie smiles and reflects on her professional journey and credits the early years of caring for elders for her success: “Through it all, they taught me to laugh; it was a special time to be a nurse.”

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