By Steve Spotswood

Drema Bratton, RN

Drema Bratton, RN

HUNTINGTON, WV—Drema Bratton, RN, has made it very clear that she has no plans to retire. “They’re going to have to pry me out of here,” declared Huntington VAMC’s Nurse of the Year. “I don’t see why anyone would retire from a job they love doing.”

She said this having just finished her midnight shift on an inpatient unit at the VAMC. It’s the same shift she’s had since coming to work at the hospital 37 years ago—a job that she worked hard to get.

“My husband is an Air Force veteran and he kept prodding and prodding me. ‘You need to go to the VA; you need to go to the VA.’ And that’s exactly what I did,’” she said. “It took a long time. I think I worked at it for about a year. At that time, they had quite a list of people who wanted to work at the VA. But I called and called and called, and finally I got it.”

Even though the job at the VA meant a pay cut from the community hospital where she’d been working since graduating from Marshall University seven years before, she never regretted it. “The hospital provides so much care for veterans—so much that I don’t think they’re aware of everything they have entitled to them.”

The midnight shift on an inpatient clinic can be both much quieter than the day shift yet more fraught with crisis. This is especially true when dealing with older patients. “You see more confused patients,” Bratton explained. “We have sundowners—they get real confused after it gets dark. The chance of a person falling also increases during the nighttime, and sudden death increases during the nighttime.”

Nurses on the midnight shift are required to be both keenly observant and very self-reliant. “You have to be a strong person, because you’re basically on your own,” Bratton recounted. “You have to identify problems prior to them happening. Pick up on little, subtle things. You don’t have all the staff and support that the day shift has.”

The midnight shift also had a lot of practical appeal for Bratton. It allowed her to go home during the day and help her husband with his privately-owned company—a business they still operate and for which she still spends her daytime hours doing taxing and billing.

In July 2015, it became even more important that her morning hours stay free. Her husband, Gary Bratton, fell ill, spending two weeks on a ventilator and a month as an inpatient. When he was finally able to return home, he required dialysis—so his wife received training to provide it to him. These days, when her shift at Huntington is over at 8 a.m., she hurries so she can begin her husband’s dialysis—a process that takes about four hours from start to finish.

Bratton was awarded the VAMC’s Nurse of the Year award in May, although she missed the ceremony because she was caring for her husband.

Asked what advice she would give to a nurse starting work at the VA today, Bratton said, “I appreciate the years I had at the community hospital. I learned a lot, and it was a good starting point for me. Working at the VA has been very different, but if they just come in and be open-minded and follow-up and learn, they won’t have any problem at all.”