Clintonian still finds nursing rewarding after more than 50 years of service

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CLINTON — “You’re never too old to do meaningful work.”

And that’s why at age 76, Nurse Practitioner Marilyn L. Baker-Campola, of Clinton, continues to do what she’s loved doing for more than 50 years — helping people. She may no longer be putting in 80-hour work weeks, but Campola puts in hours at least three days a week, traveling to offices and hospitals where they could use an extra hand within the Mohawk Valley Health Systems service area — 12 offices throughout Oneida and Herkimer counties.

“It’s good to help. What’s more rewarding than that?,” she asked with a big smile.

Campola began her career in 1963 at the Utica Psychiatric Center after receiving her registered nurse diploma. She would go on to earn her Nurse Clinician diploma from Syracuse Community General Hospital in 1973, and five years later receive her bachelor’s of science degree in nursing from the former SUNY-IT, now SUNY Polytechnic Institute, in Marcy.

Campola’s experience includes working at the Faxton Hospital Neighborhood Health Center and Faxton Emergency Room from 1973-80; private practice with Dr. William F. Krause in Utica from 1980-2001; St. Elizabeth Hospital Family Practice Residency from 1980-85; Presbyterian Nursing Home in New Hartford from 1980-2012; the U.S. Army Nurse Corps from 1981-88; Hamilton College Health Center Summer Programs in Clinton from 1990-95; Faxton-St. Luke’s Healthcare from 2001-14; Mohawk Valley Endocrinology in Utica, 2015-17; and Mohawk Valley Health Systems, 2014 to the present.

Her management experience includes serving as the ACP Middlesettlement office manager in New Hartford from 1997-2000. She was the founder/leader of the Faxton-St. Luke’s Healthcare NP/PA Association from 2003-09, and is a member of the state Federation of Professional Health Educators.

The NP’s awards also include ANCC Family Nurse Practitioner Certification from 1996 to the present; AAPA Certification from 1980-2000; Geriatric Scholar from Utica College in 2000; Team Excellence Award for Diabetes Performance in 2006; and Childbirth Educator — Lamaze in 1981.

In between, Campola took time off to raise her two children while living in Buffalo, and then started working part-time at Faxton Hospital when her children were small.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, nurse practitioners (NPs) are licensed, autonomous clinicians focused on managing people’s health conditions and preventing disease. As advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), NPs often specialize by patient population, including pediatric, adult-gerontological, and women’s health. NPs may also sub-specialize in areas such as dermatology, cardiovascular health and oncology.

NPs are generally licensed and certified to diagnose illnesses, perform therapeutic and corrective measures, order tests, prescribe medications and immunizations and refer patients to other health care providers.

Created in 1965, the role of the NP has continued to evolve. Known at its start as a “nurse clinician,” Campola said she was the second woman nurse out of her program.

Asked the differences between an NP and physician, Campola said, “Both have their strengths and weaknesses. If you work together and have a good working relationship, then you’ve got the best of both worlds” when it comes to health care.

Of course when the position of NP was first created, there was some skepticism among doctors “because they felt their jobs would be threatened,” Campola said. “It was a long struggle” for males in the health care profession, “to view us as credible and valuable. It took many years of hard work and then some physicians became more acceptable to it...It was a rocky road, but we’re (NPs) still standing.”

During the mid-1970s, when Campola earned her Nurse Clinician diploma, the feminist movement was in its infancy and nursing positions were still stereotypically held by women.

When the NP was a young woman just considering her future, “women generally either went into teaching, nursing or became a secretary,” the New York Mills-native said. “Coming from a small village, I didn’t come from a background where it was popular for women to go get educated by higher institutions, but nursing became available to me at the time.”

At that time, Campola said it was rare to see men entering the nursing profession.

“It was a tumultuous time period with the Vietnam War, President Nixon (Watergate) and the feminist movement,” the NP said of her schooling and early nursing days. “As for the feminist movement, I went into it hard and took it to heart, and here I was forging this new profession. It was quite the challenge.”

Campola admitted she can’t single out just one special patient or story from throughout her 55-year career. She said she does treasure the “countless personal relationships” that developed through the care and trust of her patients over the years.

“It’s such an honor to be trusted to help them...hundreds of meaningful relationships have been developed out of the trust my patients had for me being their health care provider,” Campola said. “I wanted them to feel safe — that anything could be shared with me. I’m sure I have thousands of cards and letters from patients, some that I’ve received over the last 10-20 years, that I’ve kept that are dear to me.”

One of those meaningful, thankful messages Campola could still recite: “Thank you for coming to my home to tell me I have cancer.”

Campola actually formally retired six years ago at age 70, but that didn’t last very long.

Retirement “lasted about six weeks — I didn’t give it a lot of time,” she laughed. “I couldn’t find an interest or project that was more meaningful than practicing my profession.”

Nursing is “goal-oriented and stimulating,” Campola said. “You’re constantly learning something new, and there’s so many aspects that are very rewarding. Making people’s lives a little better, even if only for a short time, is well worth it.”

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