Year of Nurse: ‘I'm Doing What I Should be Doing’


Barb Novak, RN, jokes that she became a nurse because she couldn’t sing or dance – but not really.

“At the time I made the decision to become a nurse I was working in a school as a teaching assistant.  I was always good at math and science and by nature enjoy taking care of people,” she said. “I felt that I needed a job that would give me an income where I could support myself and son if something happened to my husband.”

Nurse on the Night Shift

So, she attended Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City and after graduation joined Munson Medical Center in 2008 caring for patients on a critical care heart floor during the night shift. She remains there, enjoying her role comforting patients and sometimes being there in the last season of life. Novak recalls one patient who helped her understand her calling and commitment to her profession.

“I remember this one patient I had who was on comfort care and unresponsive all night. I played music on my phone for him. I gave him a lovely bath. His family had not arrived by shift change in the morning to begin the waiting. I held his hand and sat with him. At about 0750 he died, not alone, but with someone beside him who cared about him,” she said. “A few weeks later I ran into this patient’s son and daughter-in-law. I described to them their loved ones' last night up to the last minute of his life. I reassured them he was not alone and that I was holding his hand ... they then proceeded to tell me all about this special man. Moments like those confirm to me that I'm doing what I should be doing.

Year of the Nurse

During the WHO Year of the Nurse and Midwife in 2020, Novak characterizes her career choice as an honorable one. “There is some inherent degree of respect from others that just comes with the title, ‘nurse,’” she said. “Not that I would want any recognition whatsoever for anything I do as a nurse.  I think that people should understand that ‘The Year of the Nurse’ is celebrating a bunch of people that may also feel this same way – humble and honorable.”

Working with an Excellent Care Team

During her 12 years as a nurse at Munson Medical Center, Novak said she has been privileged to work with a great care team.

“I have got to say that I work with nurses who surprise me every day. Their humility, their grace, their amazing skills,” she said.  “I feel without a doubt that I could ask any one of these nurses for help and they would deliver 100 percent. I am blessed and truly inspired by the quality of nursing care at Munson Medical Center.”

Anything else to share?

“I really can sing and dance.”