Leaving A Nursing Legacy 65 over 65 - Dr. Joan Lester
Pearl of Wisdom
"Wherever you are, whatever your age, stay open to the world's joys and its opportunities to learn, grow, and make a difference."
About the Honoree
Although the first decade of Dr. Joan Lester's career followed a fairly predictable path after graduation as a Registered Nurse from Middlesex Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in 1958, the following almost six decades have shown a long and winding International road that continues to this day with unexpected curves and creative turns and opportunities.
Joan remained at Middlesex Hospital through 1963, working as Staff Nurse, Assistant Head Nurse, Head Nurse, and then as Instructor and Clinical Supervisor in the School of Nursing. She enrolled at Southern Connecticut State College, graduating with a BS degree and Honors with a Psychology Major, English Literature Minor, and singing with the New Haven Chorale. The road then led across the city to Yale University, A National Institute of Mental Health Grant, and graduation with High Honors and her MSN specialization in Psychiatric Nursing.
As a Clinical Nurse Specialist she was hired by Hartford Hospital for a Dual Appointment on both the Cardiac Intensive Care and Psychiatry Units. This was a dynamic position since it blended the established Psychiatric Unit with the yet to be developed CICU. Her role was to help create the CICU, even to choosing the paint colors for the walls, interviewing nurses for staff, and working in close collaboration with the Medical Staff, Nursing, and Administration. With mental health concepts in mind she developed a Psychiatric Liaison Program with the collaboration of one of the staff psychiatrists with whom she then co-led a process group for the CICU Staff. During that first year she taught in the hospital's In-Service Program with seminars on Therapeutic Communication, Stress Reduction, and EKG reading for nurses. She enjoyed the duality of this position yet knew that her long-range goal was to earn a Doctorate in Psychology.
In 1968 she began an international path that would be hers for the next 24 years with a move to Rome, Italy after marrying her high school sweetheart, an international businessman. As a new bride and "American Abroad", not being able to work legally as a nurse - or at all - opened up free time to learn about and enjoy the Italian culture and language, as well as be involved in myriad opportunities as a volunteer. She became very active in the foreign community's social-based organizations helping English-speaking newcomers adjust to life in Italy. Ever the nurse and teacher, she often spoke on health and wellness matters in English-speaking schools in Rome and Milan.
Ten years after they moved to Italy a medical emergency resulted in an ambulance ride to the hospital for their son during which she administered CPR to him. It was then that Joan discovered most ambulance drivers were not trained EMTs, nor were CPR courses easily available for lay people in Italian communities. She was determined to change the system so others would also know this life-saving technique.
She volunteered with the American Red Cross and soon qualified as an Instructor Trainer. Then as a private citizen she could pursue her goal of establishing CPR courses in various organizations, and that is exactly what she did. She established CPR courses in British and American schools in Rome, teaching students, certifying other Instructors, and persuading Parent Teacher Organizations to fund the buying of Resusci-Annie and Resusci-Baby training manikins. She created the program "Have Annie, Will Travel" as a mobile classroom for teaching CPR in embassies, businesses, and in private homes, teaching in both English and Italian. The American Red Cross promoted her to their international faculty, sending her to teach CPR & First Aid to Army, Navy, and Air Force military personnel on American bases in Naples & Vicenza on mainland Italy, Sigonella in Sicily, La Maddalena in Sardegna, and in Stuttgart, Germany. She also was invited to teach CPR by the Italian National Association of Aerobics Instructors and by the Colgate Palmolive Corporation outside Rome. These connections led to being asked to join the Italian Group for the Study of Emergency Medicine and the Italian Society of Emergency Medicine as their American Associate and to speaking in Italian to these groups on raising community awareness of health issues and emergency treatment along with suggestions for establishing CPR/First Aid community programs such as are common in the USA.
These collaborations resulted in Joan being appointed as the bilingual Liaison between the American Red Cross and the Italian Red Cross and being awarded a Certificate of Commendation by the Presidents of both the American Red Cross and the Italian Red Cross for "outstanding service to both organizations". She was also elected to the American Red Cross Nursing Corps with lifetime status, and was given their People Helping People Award for "outstanding and creative service in Italy".
In 1992 the family moved back to America which opened up the possibility of studying for her doctorate which had been on hold while in Italy. After realizing that dream from Antioch University New England in Keene, NH (the only non-Connecticut college she has attended), she became the Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Saint Joseph College (now the University of Saint Joseph) in West Hartford. During her ten years as Director, she helped create a more vibrant and active counseling program that elicited collaboration with the Faculty and Staff who referred students and sought Joan's input. She loved college counseling but when she decided to go to part-time status she joined Goodwin College as Adjunct Faculty teaching Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing in the Department of Nursing. She has taught every cohort of Associate Degree RN students at the college and is now in her 13th year at Goodwin. Always creative, she designed a successful counseling service within the department just for the nursing students and staff.
Congratulations Joan, we applaud all that you do for nursing in Connecticut!