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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Nurse Skis to Work in Snowstorm

On the morning of February 6, 2019, almost a foot of snow fell on Salt Lake City.

Her car buried and the roads unplowed, an oncology nurse strapped on her cross-country skis and headed to work.

Meet Susan Childress, RN, MN, OCN, director of nursing services at Huntsman Cancer Institute. An experienced cross-country skier, Childress knew she could make it the two miles to work and that it would make for a fun story for her colleagues. A cellphone photo of her adventure went viral on the Internet, underscoring the mixture of dedication and joy with which healthcare workers see their duty to patients and colleagues.

“I am certainly not used to things going viral. When the local media called and asked to interview me, I said, ‘I’m happy to be interviewed, but this is not really about me,” Childress says.

No, it was about patients in need of care and overnight staff at the facility working long hours to provide it.

“That day the schools were closed and all the kids stayed home, but hospitals — certainly a cancer center — do not get a snow day,” she says. “There were a lot of dedicated people that stayed late until someone came to relieve them. People went to amazing efforts to get in that day. When you take care of patients, you do not have the luxury of [staying home].”

One note on the common healthcare problem of “presenteeism”: Childress would not have come into work — on skis or otherwise — if she was sick.

“It’s a cancer hospital, but we have the same challenge that other hospitals have,” she says. “Our leave system is paid time off, so you don’t have sick leave or vacation — just a lump sum. A lot of people don’t want to take that sick leave because it eats into their vacation time. We certainly remind employees that if they are sick they need to stay home.”

For more on this story, see the May 2019 issue of Hospital Employee Health.