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Published December 13, 2010, 12:00 AM

It's My Job: Dial ‘N’ for nurse

Sanford pediatric nurse helps patients by phone
The pure kindness in Ann Irmen’s voice radiates through the phone as she speaks. It has to in her line of work.

The pure kindness in Ann Irmen’s voice radiates through the phone as she speaks.

It has to in her line of work.

She talks with parents during some of their most worrisome moments: when they need advice on how to care for a sick child.

Irmen is one of four pediatric phone nurses at Sanford Health’s Southwest Children’s Clinic in Fargo.

“A lot of times by your voice, you have to send a smile through the phone line because you don’t see the family when you try to assist them over the phone,” Irmen said.

Phone nurses, like Irmen, answer as many as 160 calls a day. They handle questions about illness, a child’s well-being and even simple inquiries on a patient’s chart.

The free service is separate from Sanford’s ASK-A-NURSE phone line, a contracted 24-hour help line.

Irmen and the other phone nurses at the children’s clinic work directly between families and their pediatricians.

Irmen has been a registered nurse since 1975, following in her mother’s footsteps – even learning at the same school as she did: the former St. Luke’s School of Nursing in Fargo.

“I love to come to work every day,” she said.

“I really, really do.”

Irmen exuded vibrant excitement when she spoke to The Forum about her work last week:

What are the most common inquiries you get when parents call in?

The ill calls – about whether to bring your children in or not.

We triage that, take the information in the chart and go over the protocol that we’re given that all the doctors have signed off on.

Then we say, “Yes, according to our protocol and our experience, you need to come in for an appointment.”

But you know, we also set up appointments for them all over the United States if they need it – wherever they needed to go if it wasn’t provided here.

We do a lot of that, also.

And then, wellness issues.

It’s fun to take calls on newborns, like if a mother has questions on a baby who’s up all night.

But also, as they’re getting ready for college, there’s questions about, “Did I have this immunization?” or “Can you help me with this form?” And that is also fun with the older children.

What’s the most difficult or challenging call you’ve had to take?

The extremely ill children, when the physician then does the call back and we take all the information from their home health nurse.

Those are difficult. Things that you can’t fix quickly – I think those are the hardest calls.

What qualities help you do your job?

Patience. Being a good listener. Kindness.

Kindness does matter. You have to really listen.

They have the Sanford promise – deliver the flawless experience that inspires. That really is what you try to do: Inspire the family.

The children are such a gift that each person that calls or you deal with, it’s a really important part of their family life when they call in with questions.

What advice do you have for parents who might be unsure about whether their child is sick enough to seek medical attention?

Absolutely, call in – that is what we’re here for. We answer the calls as they come in.

If you have any questions on your child, the pediatric phone nurse is the place to call.

We’re the first line; we’ll help you. We’ll assist with anything.

We’re here Monday through Friday. If it’s the weekend or it’s after hours, call ASK-A-NURSE.

To submit an idea for “It’s My Job,” e-mail businessnews@forumcomm.com.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541