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In Altru's obstetrics unit, mother-daughter nurses carry on family tradition in health care

Grand Forks Herald - 11/30/2022

Nov. 30—GRAND FORKS — Even as a young teen, Emily Shimpa knew exactly where she wanted to go in life. She wanted to follow her mother and grandmother into the nursing profession.

And she did.

In June 2021, shortly after earning her bachelor's degree in nursing at UND, she joined the obstetrics staff at Altru Hospital, where her mother, Lauri Shimpa, has worked for more than 30 years.

As a child, Emily said her mother "definitely" inspired her. "She's probably the reason I became a nurse."

Emily, her three siblings and dad used to take meals to Lauri during her shifts at the hospital.

"We'd go and have supper with her in the staff lounge," Emily recalled. "She'd show us the babies. Seeing how she worked, I kind of got a sneak peek.

"(Nursing) is what I always wanted to do, and I never gave it a second thought. I knew I wanted to be a nurse probably in middle school. Seeing my mom at work is probably the biggest thing that made me want to go into it."

As nurses, Emily and Lauri Shimpa are carrying on a tradition, established by Lauri's mother, JoClaire Paulson, who worked as a nurse for many years. You could say it's in their blood.

Paulson earned a nursing degree in 1956 but instead of getting a nursing job, she married and raised a family. A Mayville, North Dakota, doctor, who treated Lauri for a dislocated elbow, convinced Paulson to go to work there in 1976.

"That was a major life change for us," Lauri recalled.

After taking a refresher course to renew her license, Paulson worked in Mayville for eight years and then 16 years in Grand Forks, before retiring in 1998.

Like Emily, Lauri, was inspired by her mother.

"I loved listening to her stories, how they would take care of things when it got busy, and (about) critical patients and everything they did," Lauri said. "All her friends would ask her for her advice. I just thought that was so cool and she was so smart."

Health care is woven into the fabric of the family.

Lauri's brother, Dr. Mark Paulson, is a family physician in Perham, Minnesota, and another brother, Tim Paulson, retired after a 30-year career as a first-responder on the ambulance crew in Stephen, Minnesota.

Lauri's oldest son, Keith Shimpa, is a nurse in Fargo, and her daughter, Lindsey Shimpa, is a physical therapy student in the University of Jamestown program in Fargo.

"So there's maybe a little genetics in it, too," Lauri said. "Maybe nature and nurture together" explain the family members' interest in the health professions.

Lauri, a 1985 UND graduate with a bachelor's degree in nursing, started her career in the obstetrics unit at the Grand Forks Air Force Base hospital in 1986. Two years later, she and her husband moved to Colorado Springs, where she worked at Evans Army Hospital. They moved back here in 1991 and Lauri joined Altru Hospital's obstetrics unit, where she has remained on staff.

Her work there is much more than a job.

"I often say it's hardly a job when you get to go and help babies be born, and see that miracle every day," Lauri said. "To help moms through that, and then the joy and relief when the baby is born. And seeing the bonding — and we do skin-to-skin now — to see them on their momma's chest and they look at (the baby), they're so quiet. The miracle, it's amazing."

She has high praise for the obstetrics staff, which she describes as "a great team, always ready to help each other," she said. "We all work very closely. You never have to worry about asking questions or expressing concerns. (The doctors) are very open and ready to teach and ready to listen, and make sure you're on the same page when it comes to taking care of their patients."

Lauri and Emily both say their work can be stressful at times.

"We get busy and feel short-staffed and there's too many patients — that's the hard part," Lauri said. "But with a good team, we all pull together. I think we do a good job."

For Emily, it's been stressful, "especially when I was in labor training," she said. "It's a bunch of information to wrap your head around. The biggest stress is not knowing everything."

But "helping mommas get their babies delivered and, in good cases, seeing the joy it brings them, that's the best part," she said.

Emily relies on her mother for advice and knowledge; they talk a lot about their work, she said. "It's our main topic of discussion."

Lauri has seen how obstetrical and newborn care has changed over the years, how patients with conditions such as diabetes and hypertension have increased the complexity and challenges of patient care, and how technology has impacted the field.

"There's a lot more computer charting — that was huge," and babies are monitored more closely and more frequently now, Lauri said. "A lot of things are a lot safer now."

Technological advances and the use of different medications to stop labor and other methods to stanch postpartum bleeding are other important changes, she said. "(Doctors) used to have to do a hysterectomy (if bleeding wouldn't stop). ... It's interesting how improved care is, and a lot of medical knowledge is improving."

"I wonder what kinds of things Emily will see in her career, over 35 or 40 years, if she sticks to OB," she said.

Emily had worked during college as a certified nurse assistant at Altru. When she was about to finish her nursing degree and was offered a position in the hospital's obstetrics unit, she said, "It was exciting. I never wanted to work in any other department. So when they said I get to work there, it's what I've been working for these past four years of college. That's where I wanted to be."

And "it's fun working with my mom," she said.

Lauri said, "She's a smart girl and had good recommendations from staff (on the other units where she worked). It's been exciting to watch all that. I'm really happy" she got the job in obstetrics.

And Emily "is learning fast and gaining a lot of experience" in her year-and-a-half years in the unit, Lauri said. "She caught her first baby; she knows what to do."

Emily added, "I've got big shoes to fill, so I have to learn a lot."


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