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Mother, daughters enjoy sharing career paths at MCH

Odessa American - 10/7/2019

Oct. 6--After spending roughly 20 years as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, Tenn., Tammy Watson decided to retire.

That retirement didn't last very long.

During her second travel nursing assignment, Watson found herself in Odessa and Medical Center Hospital had an open position as the unit director for the NICU and pediatrics.

Watson applied for the position, was offered the job, accepted it, moved nearly 1,200 miles from Knoxville to Odessa and has held that position at MCH for the last six and half years.

"This job was open and I liked it here," Watson said. "I applied and got it. I'm one of those long termers. I don't tend to leave."

About four years after Watson moved, her eldest daughter also made a home in Odessa.

Jennifer Stephens, 38, with her husband and four children relocated to Odessa in March 2017 and about a year and a half later Watson's second and final daughter, 34-year-old Julie Watson, moved to the West Texas city. Both of Tammy Watson's daughters followed in her footsteps to MCH. Stephens works as a paramedic in the emergency room and Julie Watson is a unit clerk for labor and delivery.

"I've had the opportunity to come up and work (in my mother's unit) when she's short staffed," Stephens said. "It has been a great experience for me. I've gotten to know a lot of directors and gotten a really cool around the hospital experience being able to work in different areas."

Tammy Watson said it's a unique experience to plan family events as all three are at MCH at different times.

Stephens works the day shift on the weekends, while Julie Watson works nights. Tammy Watson is scheduled Monday through Friday.

"We manage, especially, since (Stephens and Julie Watson) work on opposite shifts," Tammy Watson said. "We all really love the hospital. It's very family friendly and the support that you get from the executive team and the directors are phenomenal and that's why I stayed."

Though the trio rarely spend time at MCH together, the three logged "emotionally draining" hours at the hospital Aug. 31 after the mass shooting shocked Odessa when a 36-year-old gunman shot and killed seven people and left 25 others injured.

Stephens was working in the emergency room as the first wave of patients came to MCH. The hospital received 14 patients, while Odessa Regional Medical Center and Midland Memorial Hospital each had six. Tammy Watson drove in and spent time at the hospital's reunification center, while Julie Watson came in for her night shift.

"It was extremely emotionally draining, but being in this profession you always think of your patients and their family first," Tammy Watson said. "That's what you are trained to do and that's your personality. That's all we were thinking about is taking care of those patients and those families.

"By the time, I went home that night, I was emotionally whipped. I was totally drained, but had that good feeling that we did the best we could and helped the families."

Stephens remembers during her shift it was all business, but a switch flipped when she got home. She said she spent the rest of the night lying in bed with her husband and children.

As Stephens, her mother and her sister went through the same experiences on Aug. 31, Stephens said there's an understanding between the trio that each will talk about their emotions when they are ready.

"I find it really wonderful being part of a medical family, because if I'm having a bad day at work my husband does push me, my mom doesn't push me," Stephens said. "When I'm ready to talk, I'll say something."

Tammy Watson said the ability to flip the switch from family members to colleague is a seamless transition.

The trio can be interacting as mother and daughters or as sisters, but when they arrive at work or come out of the lunchroom at the hospital the three turn back into colleagues.

"We go to lunch together and we sit and laugh and have a good time, but then we go back to the serious part," Tammy Watson said. "If there's something odd going on, I might go down and help them. If there's something crazy going on in pediatrics, she will come up and there. We are still able to work well together."

In 1993, Tammy Watson graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from the University of Tennessee.

She continued to push the importance of education to her two daughters, even though it wasn't met with immediate success. Watson said she kept planting the seed about the possibility of earning college degrees.

Julie Watson and Stephens finally took the bait and both are attending Odessa College. Stephens is expected to graduate in December and then start her master's program immediately following. Julie Watson is taking her basics at Odessa College, but will plan on transferring to Midland College for respiratory therapy.

"(My mother) kept telling me to go to nurse, but I was stubborn and it took me a while," said Stephens, who worked as a paramedic for 16 years. "When I told her that I was going to go to nursing school, she said 'It's about time.'"

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