PerfectServe’s Nurses of Note awards program honors nurses who deserve recognition for their remarkable resilience and unwavering dedication to their patients. In the second year of the Nurses of Note program, PerfectServe wants to shine a light on the integrity, perseverance, and compassion that nurses so regularly display in the course of caring for patients.
The incredible stories of these honorees paint a pretty clear picture of the people who populate this noble profession, and their experiences offer just a glimpse into the many ways they make the world a better place. Of the 200-plus nominations PerfectServe received, we selected a group of providers to spotlight during the month of May—which, of course, is home to National Nurses Week—and throughout the rest of 2022.
November is Native American Heritage Month, a yearly celebration that pays tribute to the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans. To honor the importance and significance of Native American history, our latest feature highlights the story of a Native American nurse whose career arc brought her back home to serve her tribe. If you’re interested in learning more about Native American Heritage Month, visit nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov.
Honoree 8: The Public Health Director at Little Axe Health Clinic (Norman, OK) — Beverly Felton
Beverly Felton describes her 26-year nursing career as “full circle.” In 1995, Beverly became the first Supervisory Registered Nurse for an ambulatory care clinic established by her tribe, the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Indians from Oklahoma. Though she had only been a nurse for a year at the time, she dreamed of furthering her education to advance her nursing career. After serving at the clinic for a few years, Beverly was able to obtain bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and she’s currently enrolled in a doctoral program. A self-described lifelong learner, Beverly’s passions have always been rooted in a desire to care for others.
Her continued education eventually led her to the Clinical Educator role at AllianceHealth in Midwest City, OK. But in March of 2021, she felt a strong pull to return to a role where she served her tribe. Due to acquisitions and other changes at AllianceHealth, Beverly made the decision to leave and took on a new role as Public Health Director at the Little Axe Health Clinic in Norman, OK. She now provides care and education for her fellow tribe members, and says she is truly happy to be able to serve the Absentee Shawnee Tribe.
In this position, Beverly directly supports and promotes the overall health of her tribe. Of utmost importance is being able to teach fellow members how to live healthier lives, and because she’s a Native and an older member of the tribe, many members trust her knowledge more than information that comes from non-Natives. Beverly believes this helps her directly impact her community, and she was grateful to be able to do this during the height of the pandemic. Her medical experience and cultural closeness allow her to provide specific, sensitive care to Natives who may be less comfortable in the medical care of non-Natives. She stressed that this was because, as a Native, she understands and lives the cultural and historical practices, beliefs, and customs of her tribe, such as eating specific foods during certain seasons. These unique needs and customs are better understood and upheld by Native American caregivers, and Beverly is honored to be able to do this for her tribe. Her main goal is to reduce the number of unhealthy tribal members in her population.
Beverly shared some of the public health challenges faced by her tribe. Of particular note are mental health issues and a rising population of homeless tribe members. In Beverly’s opinion, these issues have been caused, in part, by changes in the ways young people are raised versus the environment in which she grew up. Today, 18-year-old tribe members are expected to leave their homes and start on their own in a short period of time. This has been exacerbated by the dwindling number of elders in the community, who traditionally would have offered homes or shelter and support for these younger members. This problem is twofold—it contributes to a growing number of homeless members and a decrease in the overall mental health of the tribe. In her community in Oklahoma, there is no designated location or shelter for Native Americans to go when something unexpected happens, such as the loss of a job or a natural disaster. This is why there are more members, and even family groups, who are taking shelter in their cars in certain areas of the community.
Beverly’s work incorporates many practices and is the culmination of many years of experience, guidance, and dedication. She is deeply committed to teaching her patients how to live healthier lifestyles and has worked with various diabetes health coaches to find the right fit for her tribe. In one instance, a dietitian who worked with Beverly struggled to understand the financial and cultural guidelines that Beverly’s patients followed. Because of Beverly’s cultural understanding, she was able to find a dietician who could better guide those interested in the diabetes program. Beverly helped the new dietician understand that many tribe members needed guidance on what to eat based on the subsidies they received from the government. Some members also struggle financially and need more tangible directions than simply being told to find “the highest quality, most organic foods.” Beverly is proud to help educate members of her tribe about the benefits of cooking at home, which can lead to more nutritious meals while allowing people to adhere to customs and traditions that many elders in the community follow.
To Beverly, teaching about health is extremely important because many tribal members were lost during the pandemic. Many of those who passed away were traditional speakers and leaders in Beverly’s tribe, making the impact of the loss that much heavier on the entire community. Though the tribe is adjusting, they are still learning how to recover, and Beverly is eager to continue inspiring fellow members to live healthy lives to mitigate some of the losses they have recently faced. Beverly shared that the most rewarding part of being a nurse for her tribe is being able to reconnect with tribal members. One of the best feelings she gets is when a previous patient reminds her of the care they received from her long ago. She has also been learning her tribe’s language and is passionate about preserving as much of her tribe’s culture as possible.
Outside of nursing, Beverly has served on her local school board for 27 years. Most recently, she was elected to the Oklahoma State School Board Association’s Board of Directors. She has also worked with other organizations, such as Crossroads Youth and Family and the Cleveland County Detention Center Citizen Advisory Board. It’s obvious how passionate Beverly is about public health and education, and we’re honored to share her story.
Beverly also wants to recognize the support she has received from her husband, Doug, throughout her life and shared that her achievements wouldn’t have been possible without the support of her family. Nurses of Note come from all walks of life, and we thank Beverly for sharing her passions with us!
Beverly, thank you for sharing your nursing story with us. We’re honored to spotlight your voice and all the meaningful work you do for Little Axe Health Clinic and your community at large. You are an amazing Nurse of Note!
In addition to learning about Beverly’s career and community, we posed a few additional questions to get to know her better.
Why did you choose to become a nurse?
I began my career as a nursing assistant and watched how the nurses took care of patients. One of my friends became a mentor of sorts at the hospital, showing me what it was really like to be a nurse. She encouraged me to apply to nursing school because I was good with the patients, and one patient called me his “nurse” even though I wasn’t one yet. I tried to correct him, but he told me I treated him better than most nurses he had known. That really encouraged me to go deeper into the field. I also felt passionate about caring for people who wouldn’t make it home. Knowing I was the last person they may see made me want to be a better person.
What is the biggest lesson you learned while serving as a nurse throughout the pandemic?
One of the biggest lessons I learned is to never give up. There were plenty of times that I could have just given up and stayed home when I was tired, but I couldn’t do that. Though I was never on the “front lines” like some of my co-workers, I still felt isolated. The one thing I used to do in my job was go to the different floors at the hospital and talk to the nurses to see how they were doing and to see if there was anything I could do for them. As the Nurse Educator, my job was to ensure that the staff had the things they needed to keep up with their job. When the pandemic hit, I was no longer allowed to go to the floors. So, when I thought it was time for me to make a change and leave my job, I decided to stick it out and stay until I knew for sure it was the right time to leave. I couldn’t just leave my friends when they needed me the most. I waited until I knew the time was right.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to your younger self about serving in the healthcare field?
Start with something and stay with it. I wish I had started my nursing career earlier in life instead of when I did. I had three children when I was in nursing school; I had my youngest child during finals week! That was rough! I wish I had been in my career before I had my family so that I would have had more time with them as they got older. My parents and husband spent more time with them than I was able to because of my career. So, try to get started on the career before you make your family. It will help you balance your work and private life better!
What do you do to relax after a stressful day?
I have always liked to sew! My mother taught me how to sew when I was young, and when I was in school, home economics was one of my favorite classes. When the pandemic hit, I got together with my aunt and a few of my cousins, and we sewed masks and gave them away to different groups of people who needed them. I made masks for my family in all colors and designs, and I’ve made nine blankets for my grandchildren for this upcoming Christmas! Sewing is my relaxing habit—something I do to take all the cares of the world away. If I ever retire, I will probably sit at the sewing machine all day and just sew on more blankets for the grandkids. They can never have enough of Grandma’s blankets.
What changes would you like to see in the nursing field in the future?
We need to get away from the mindset of who we think we need to be or become. I have worked with some nurses who think they are not good enough because they were “only” an LPN, or they were better than everyone else because they had a master’s degree in nursing when the rest of us were only “ADN” nurses. We are all nurses and should treat each other with respect. It should not matter what initials are at the back of your name.
Another thing I see is the difference in the way we are treated as minorities. In nursing school, I was treated differently than the other students because I was Native. I made sure to write more information than everyone else on most of my care plans to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Still, I had more red marks on my paper from the instructor. She often wrote that I needed more information or that I needed to be clearer. Once, I wrote a word-for-word care plan but was told that the information was wrong. I showed the Dean of the college, and luckily my paper and overall grade were corrected. I was later informed the instructor was no longer allowed to teach at that nursing college due to her bias against minorities. Needless to say, I left that college and went back to a smaller college to finish my degree and be immersed in a learning atmosphere that allowed me to grow as a student. We must treat all students with respect, regardless of their culture, heritage, or ethnicity.
If you had to pick one song that describes you as a nurse, what would it be?
My staff helped me with this one, suggesting the songs “American Woman,” “Barracuda,” and “I Will Survive.” But, I think the song that best describes me as a nurse is “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” because I really don’t let anything get to me. If you ask my staff, they will say that I often tell them to relax, calm down, or stop worrying about things. It will all work out, so don’t worry about little things!
Make sure to follow our blog as we publish in-depth profiles about more of our deserving Nurses of Note honorees throughout the year.
For more about Nurses of Note 2022, check out the full list of winners.