Ever since she was a little girl growing up on the island of Jamaica, Audrey Graham-O’Gilvie knew her future would include helping others. “My mother was involved in nursing so I got to learn quite a bit from her, listening to all her stories,” reflects the Poughkeepsie resident. “Other than thinking about a law career for a quick second, I always knew I wanted to be a nurse.”
It’s worked out well. After only two years as a nurse for the VA Hudson Valley Health Care System in Montrose, she — along with five other honorees from across the nation — received this year’s prestigious Secretary of Veterans Affairs Award for Excellence in Nursing and Advancement of Nursing Programs.
While Graham-O’Gilvie has been invaluable to the hospital by doing everything from integrating new equipment and tools for patients to facilitating communication with staff, what stands out the most is her devotion to veterans who are not only burdened with physical afflictions, but often complex mental ones too. The patient, empathetic Graham-O’Gilvie is up for the challenge.
Graham-O’Gilvie moved to the US in 1990 from Montreal, where her 34-year-long nursing career was jumpstarted in a hectic intensive care unit. Then, after many years commuting between New York City and the Hudson Valley, she finally decided it was time to seek out a local job. Graham-O’Gilvie could have worked at many hospitals, but she was determined to make her mark on VA Hudson Valley. “I think because I have a lot of energy I don’t mind taking on more. I cared for quite a few veterans in New York City and was immediately engaged,” she explains. “After the Iraq War, I became even more curious about such issues as PTSD. I thought it would be a wonderful way to end my career: caring for patients with special needs. Now that I’m not raising my two daughters anymore, I have more to give,” she explains.
Serving her patients is Graham-O’Gilvie’s top priority, but she is quick to point out the relationship is typically an intense one. “It’s the most intimate role you can share with someone you aren’t married to. You are seeing them naked, you are seeing them crying, you are seeing them when they are their most vulnerable. These are moments to truly be respected,” she points out.
As a teacher at Hunter College, Graham-O’Gilvie often shares the following lesson with her students. “I tell them that we can teach them physiology, but not how to care. That’s something they must feel, something that’s palpable.”
Meet more of our local heroes here or nominate your own below.