Debbie Maitland: Custodian, EMU Alumna, ‘All-Star’ Nurse

Until four years ago, Debbie Maitland cleaned dorms and classrooms. This spring, the 2005 EMU graduate and Registered Nurse received a top staff award from Rockingham Memorial Hospital.

"I think sometimes I’m living in a dream," says Maitland, 43, who often returns to visit old friends at Eastern Mennonite University’s physical plant department. "I did things backwards, but I have no regrets."

Soon after 1983 graduation from Harrisonburg High School, then-Debbie Albright became the single mother of a son and daughter. At first she had to stay home frequently with her son, born with hemophilia and frequently hospitalized. (Now, at 24, he’s doing well).

Debbie Maitland as nurse
Debbie Maitland: ‘She has turned heads with her outstanding service to patients and co-workers.’
Photo by Jim Bishop

She followed her mother, Betty Albright, into custodial work for physical plant – starting in 1995, leaving to marry Jim Maitland, then returning in 1997 to work full-time for six years. Plant director C. Eldon Kurtz describes her as "very pleasant, gregarious and hard-working."

First to Attend College

Discovering that EMU allows full-time staff one tuition-free course per semester, she jumped at the opportunity, becoming first in her family to attend college.

"When a class took 50 minutes, I would stay after for that much time" working, she says, calling supervisors "very supportive."

Kurtz likes to see staff gain education "even if it means we lose them."

Ever since her son’s early medical crises, Maitland says "I knew I wanted nursing" as a career. By spring 2003, she’d completed general degree requirements plus some nursing coursework. She and Jim agreed it was time for her big plunge: quitting her job (except for work-study) to enroll full time.

A Challenging Decision

She faced mixed challenges: "being a student, being a mom, being a wife. Nursing requires a lot. Other lives are in your hands." Her initial discomfort among younger classmates dissolved as she discovered "They admired me for what I was doing."

She adds, "The faculty is just awesome. They want you to succeed." Violet Horst, Ann Hershberger and Arlene Wiens sent the clear message, "If you need help, my door is open."

In a class essay for Hershberger, Maitland thanked God "for loving me and understanding me when I myself sometimes find it difficult to do either." She also credits support from Jim (a Harrisonburg bus driver) and her parents and children.

At times, "I said, I can’t do this," but her children said "Yes you can." Following her EMU graduation (coinciding with a sister’s graduation from community college), "They threw one heck of a party."

After successfully completing nursing board exams in 2006, Maitland expected to seek a nursing home job until a friend advised, "don’t sell yourself short." That friend suggested Rockingham Memorial Hospital, where Maitland received an offer the day after applying. She remembers the date – June 12, 2006 – when she started on 3 East, a renal dialysis ward that also accommodates medical-surgical and telemetry (heart monitoring) patients.

Honored by Peers

At a staff party this May, Maitland was astonished to hear her name called – one of seven chosen to receive a trophy. Hers bears a star, her name and the inscription, "RMH Teamwork All Star 2007." She had been nominated by the director of nursing and her supervisor, who cited her willingness to come in whenever called on days off.

"I cried," Maitland says. The employee newsletter notes that in her first year, "She has turned heads with her outstanding service to patients and co-workers."

Maitland averages 100 hours per two weeks on her night shift – yet makes time to enjoy her two infant granddaughters, both living in Grottoes, Va.

On her ward, she insists, "The five or six patients I’m assigned to are not my only patients." She spends extra time with those who lack visitors, and helps any who have needs — always assuming "When they say they have pain, they have pain."

Caring for many terminal patients, Maitland must accept that "You get to know them and then they go to another life." Yet when a patient recovers promisingly and goes home, "That’s my reward. Not the paycheck."

Chris Edwards is a free-lance writer living in Harrisonburg.