As a little girl, Lela Bartley often accompanied her dad on trips to take her older sister to work at Akron Children’s. Still, working at Children’s didn’t cross Lela’s mind because she wanted to be a teacher. When Lela’s mom, a licensed practical nurse, pointed out that pediatric nurses are around children all day, it was as if a light bulb came on for Lela. Her mom’s recommendation ended up being perfect for Lela, who combined working with children and teaching during her 46-year career at Children’s. She is the education coordinator in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
On April 24, Lela plans to trade her medical scrubs for farm apparel. Lela and her husband live on a 5-acre homestead near West Branch State Park where they raise farm animals, tend a large vegetable garden and cultivate several prairie gardens containing only native Ohio plant species. She’s looking forward to spending time with her family, grandchildren and a new puppy she’s getting in May.
What brought you to Children’s?
My sister was a medical technologist at Children’s. She helped me get a job in the hematology lab while I was in college. When I graduated, Eileen Enin in NICU hired me. The NICU nurses appeared knowledgeable and competent, and I wasn’t sure I could function at that level, but with training, I soon caught on.
What was going on in your life then?
I was engaged and planned to get married after graduation from University of Akron with my bachelor of science in nursing degree. In 1975, graduating with a BSN was somewhat unusual because most nurses went to schools of nursing to get diplomas.
Have you always worked in the same department and role?
I’ve always worked in the NICU, first as a staff nurse, then as a nurse educator. As an educator, I ensure all our new nurses are precepted. That orientation takes 5 to 6 months. I also develop continuing education for NICU nurses based on our needs, processes and equipment.
What have your biggest contributions been while here?
I’ve helped hundreds of newly hired nurses develop a passion for NICU nursing. Some have taken their passion to a higher level, becoming neonatal nurse practitioners.
How has Akron Children’s changed since you started here?
We keep improving our NICU. I’ve worked in 4 since I started, each one better than the previous one. New technology and increasing professional knowledge have contributed to dramatically different and improved outcomes for our patients and their families. We’ve always done an amazing job with family-centered care, and that’s gotten better with the addition of single-patient rooms and parent advisors.
What gave you the most satisfaction at work?
The wonderful group of NICU nurses and interprofessional NICU teams, who want the best outcomes for our patients and families. It’s also satisfying when patients and families visit us and tell us they appreciated everything we did for them.
What’s your most memorable moment at Akron Children’s?
Earlier in my career, I precepted all new NICU hires. Training them one-on-one, getting to work at the bedside while educating them, it was extremely satisfying. The bedside nurses have the best jobs in nursing.
With so many little children here, did someone especially touch your heart?
One infant spent 2 ½ years in NICU before moving to another floor where he later died. I loved this little boy and spent many shifts rocking him. His was the only funeral I’ve ever attended during all my years in NICU.
What do you look forward to the most in retirement?
Traveling, going on cruises and completing my bucket list of visiting every state. I have 5 states to go — Hawaii, Kansas, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Utah — before I start visiting countries.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Hiking in the woods and enjoying its beauty.
Do you have any advice for people just starting at Children’s?
Getting involved will help connect you to our culture. Keep smiling, and welcome families and patients as if they were your family.
What couldn’t you live without?
My family, friends and good health. I haven’t called off sick for 31 years.
What music do you like?
I most enjoy rock music, like the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Hendrix and the Beatles.
What’s the last book your read?
“Small Great Things” by Jodi Picoult
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
Reading, cooking, baking, eating out and trying different restaurants. I also like shopping and attending craft shows with friends.