Spend any amount of time around Shirley Benson, her daughter, Lisa, and her son, Derek, and the love they have for what they do shines through.

“I’m proud to be a nurse,” declares Lisa Benson Madden, who has been one for 32 years. “I still enjoy my job. I don’t dread going to work, I don’t think, Do I have to go in there again?”

“I’ve never looked at my job as a source of a paycheque,” echoes her brother, Derek Benson, nursing now for 27 years. “I never went in on Monday morning saying, ‘I wish it was Friday,’ ” agrees their mother, Shirley Benson, retired after 57 years as a nurse.

Factoring in Shirley’s mother, Ada, who was a registered nurse for 44 years before her retirement in 1975, and Derek’s daughter Victoria, who is in her third year at Memorial University of Newfoundland with the goal of becoming a nurse, and four generations have made nursing a family tradition.

“I Did It”
That tradition started almost a century ago, when Salvation Army Lieutenant Ada Oakley started working at St. John’s Grace General Hospital’s maternity program in 1926. Her daughter, Shirley, followed suit.

The family posed together with Mrs. Brg Ada Oakley in the early 1990s for this group photoThe family posed together with Mrs. Brg Ada Oakley in the early 1990s for this group photo
“At the time, it was either go into nursing or teaching, and with Mom being a nurse, it just seemed the natural thing to do,” says Shirley.

“As with my mother, nursing or teaching were the only careers that I ever thought about, and it came down to nursing,” agrees Lisa.

Derek, however, was a late bloomer, only going into nursing when he was 25.

“I joke that it took a while for me to find myself,” he smiles. “I’d done some summer placements in a couple of departments in the hospital, so I was used to a hospital setting, and it was probably the natural path for me.

“Besides,” he goes on to say, “seeing how everyone else in the family was a nurse….

“The funny thing is, I didn’t tell the family that I had applied at all until I came home one day and said, ‘Oh, by the way, I got into nursing school, and I start in two weeks’ time.’ ”

“Every Mother Is Important”
Though nurses all, Shirley and her children have had varied career trajectories.

Shirley’s years in nursing were spent in administration, ranging from working with interns to night-supervisor relief and staffing co-ordinator.

Derek, on the other hand, has spent his entire career in the operating room, and is the head nurse for the plastic surgery department at Eastern Health in Conception Bay South, N.L. Much of his patient interaction is spent preparing them for surgery and administering general anesthesia.

“Somebody asked me a long time ago who the most important person is in the OR,” he says. “That’s easy. It’s the patient. It’s always the patient. So you do the best that you can, with your knowledge base, for every single patient, and you treat them like they’re your mother.”

Meanwhile, 30 of Lisa’s 32 years have been in the maternity ward at Eastern Health.

“Unlike Derek, my patients are awake,” she jokes. “I can spend 12 hours with one mother or I can have three deliveries in one night. But every mother is important.”

Challenges and Changes
Not surprisingly, the biggest changes in their profession have been due to technology.

“I remember I scrubbed for the very first laparoscopic cholecystectomy done at the Grace,” says Derek. “It took us seven hours. The last one I scrubbed for recently took me 20 minutes from the time I passed the surgeon his scalpel to his last stitch. Technology has changed the way surgery is provided to patients by leaps and bounds. It’s just mind-boggling.”

“It’s all technology!” agrees Lisa. For her, the pace of technology has been literally life-saving.

“Obstetric ultrasound may have been around for 50 years but has only come into its own in the last 20. What they can diagnose is simply amazing. A baby’s heart at 19 weeks is the size of a dime, but we can look at that heart and see if the blood vessels are circulating properly, if the two heart valves are opening and closing. We can see the four little chambers of the heart. If something is wrong, we can deal with it now.”

In Control
Shirley and her husband, Tom, are soldiers who attend St. John’s Temple regularly and are still involved in the life of their corps. Tom is on the corps council and Shirley is involved with home league and various women’s ministries. The two proud grandparents escort Derek’s two youngest daughters to church every week.

Derek and Lisa are also Salvationists who attend St. John’s Temple when schedules permit.

Lisa’s faith is at the core of her work.

“I’m bringing babies into the world,” she says, “and sometimes they do not make it. I can’t control that. And I have mothers come in and their babies are stillbirths, but they still have to deliver. That’s tough for the families, and it’s tough on the nurses. I try to comfort them as best I can. I draw strength in these situations from my faith, knowing that God is in control."

Leave a Comment