Joyce Graham says, “I like to be where the action is.” If anything, that’s an understatement. But it goes a long way toward explaining why she has kept working as a nurse at Kaiser Permanente into her late 70s, and is only now retiring this May.
“People have been coming up to me for years, asking me when I was going to retire,” Joyce said. “But nursing is not for wimps. I told them I’m working on making the Guinness Book of World Records. But then I saw on TV that there’s a nurse here in D.C. still working in her 90s. I’m not going to top her, so I figured it was time for me to do other things.”
But the decision wasn’t easy because she loves nursing, her employer and her union so much. “It’s so nice to take care of people and see them get better, it’s rewarding,” she said.
“I’m just going to miss her—she’s a true inspiration for nurses,” said Louise (Lu) Casa, a Kaiser shop steward, nurse practitioner, and longtime colleague and friend of Joyce. “Ever since I’ve known her, she has been a role model. Whenever anything was needed, Joyce was right there. She would help her colleagues, and go out of way to make sure Kaiser patients were properly cared for. She’s remarkable and the younger nurses all look up to her.”
Joyce’s more than 50 years in nursing have been marked by a constant drive for self-improvement and desire to learn new skills—so much so, that she was a member of the first graduating class of the University of the District of Columbia’s School of Nursing. And she finished first in her class!
Making her achievement all the more remarkable, Joyce was working as a surgical intensive care nurse at the Washington Veterans Hospital at the same time she was getting her degree—and taking care of her teenage daughter and 18-month-old son, too. “I worked the evening shift from 3:30 to midnight. I got up very early in the morning and tried to prepare dinner for my family before I left to attend school. In between my morning classes and work, I would try to get a few hours of studying in.”
Little wonder that Lu Casa marvels at Joyce’s “amazing energy.”
Joyce started working as a licensed practical nurse in Pittsburgh in the early 1960s. In 1965, she moved to Washington, D.C., and was hired at the VA hospital. After receiving her nursing degree in 1978 and becoming a registered nurse, she moved to internal medicine at the VA. Then, in 1986, she went to work at the National Rehabilitation Hospital, and later at the Washington Hospital Center in their postpartum wing. In 1992, at the encouragement of a friend from her VA Hospital days, Joyce joined Kaiser. She first worked in Advice and then moved to Rheumatology, working at Kaiser’s North Capitol Street and West End Health Centers.
Throughout this time, she conducted regular CPR classes to ensure that staff were certified in this life-saving procedure. She also served as lead nurse for Specialties (all departments other than Internal Medicine) and was responsible for ensuring that all clinical assistants were cross-trained to work in whatever department needed them.
“Joyce is always growing and changing in our profession,” Lu said. “When we opened our Capitol Hill office, our Dermatology Department launched a new therapy called PUVA that uses ultraviolet technology. Joyce was already in her 70s, but she embraced it and became a PUVA nurse.
“She’s someone who really rolls with the punches,” Lu added. “She’s a great patient advocate. And she never misses a day of work—she’s a perfect nurse.”
Joyce has always been a dedicated Local 400 member at Kaiser, too. “As a shop steward, whenever I needed help getting information out to our members, Joyce would help me,” Lu said. “She was like an undesignated steward’s assistant. And she would speak up to management if they were trying to do things she thought were wrong. She was always about making sure patients got the best care.”
“Our union’s done a good job,” Joyce said. “Kaiser’s Labor-Management Partnership is a good idea. [Local 400 Board Member] Jaki Bradley and Lu Casa work so hard for us and I’m really proud of them.”
Joyce’s colleagues all testify about her infectious spirit. “She loves to joke,” Lu said. “Joyce was famous for her baking and one April Fool’s Day, she brought in something that looked like one of her wonderful chocolate cakes. When we cut into it, we found it was a box with frosting spread all over it.”
“I like pulling pranks on people,” Joyce admitted. “I like humor. And bringing in food.”
Joyce is also known for her humility. “At Capitol Hill, we have to park offsite and take a shuttle to our offices,” Lu said. “We tried to get Joyce onsite parking to make it easier for her since she’s in her 70s. But she said, ‘No way—I’ll go to the parking lot like everyone else.’”
In retirement, Joyce has no intention of slowing down. “There are so many things I’d like to do,” she said. “I’ll be busy with work at my church, as always. I like to travel and I love going to museums and parades downtown, as well as movies. There’s so much to do and see.
“But I will miss my job,” she noted. “I really like Kaiser Permanente. It’s a great place to work and a great place to get medical care—you can’t beat it. I like their philosophy and how they treat their employees. And I love my colleagues and my profession.”