Nursing History

Pauline Heymann, RN, Led by Example

The quintessential nurse—that’s how those who knew her described Pauline Heymann, RN, director of nursing at Cincinnati Children’s from 1974 to 1981.

A native of Kansas and graduate of the Cornell School of Nursing, she started her career at the medical center in 1962 as the evening nurse supervisor. She became nursing director when Louise Flynn, RN, retired from the post after 27 years.

“Miss Heymann,” as she was called, cut a slender but commanding figure in her starched white uniform, complete with French cuffs, beeper sash, square nursing cap perched on silver, upswept hair, and soft-soled white shoes that made no sound as she walked. Because she lived on campus in the nurses’ dormitory (St. Vincent Hall), she was able to appear seemingly out of nowhere on any ward during the night as she made her rounds.

Heymann was responsible for ordering linens, managing all ancillary services, including central supply, signing everyone’s time cards and serving on all hospital medical staff committees. She was a role model for the nursing staff and students and saw to their socialization and education.

Heymann was known for her candor, her no-nonsense approach, and her high ethical and moral standards. But according to Herb Koffler, MD, MS, a chief resident and neonatology fellow here in the mid-60s, she was never judgmental and always supportive.

“Miss Heymann seemed to have an innate sense of where the ‘trouble’ was going to be during and after her afternoon shift,” he said. “She was always at the bedside of patients who were sicker than the admitting house officer recognized. She mustered the resources and personnel to provide what was needed, and then she disappeared again. I learned to check with her before attempting to go home for the evening. If she identified a potential problem, I did not leave until it was addressed.”

Heymann made calls during the night, as well. Said Koffler, “She’d say, ‘Dr. Koffler, you might want to come to 2-Center to see the little guy who was admitted about two hours ago.’ This was her way of protecting both the patient and the staff. She was always there, and she was always right. I quickly learned to respect and appreciate her medical judgment. Her sixth sense was my security and safety blanket that things would be handled well during my tenure. Her mentorship was an invaluable part of my career.”

Unwavering Dedication

The late William Schubert, MD, past president and CEO of Cincinnati Children’s, had a deep respect for Heymann, as well, and spoke of her in an article by historian Bill Gerhardt, MD, that was previously published in "Staff Bulletin."

“I was in private practice, a practice that included many referrals from not only the Tri-state area and northern Ohio but as far east as West Virginia,” he said. “I always made late evening rounds, in addition to morning rounds, and if I admitted a child that day and stopped after office hours to see the patient, Miss Heymann appeared out of nowhere, especially if the patient was quite ill. Her help was invaluable in caring for these patients at a time of limited staff.”

When Schubert became Chief of Staff, he recalled that his office was immediately adjacent to hers on the fifth floor.

"We became good friends, but she always refused invitations to holiday dinners at my home so that she could maintain her vigilance over the patients who were still in the hospital," he said.

Lester Martin, MD, former director of Pediatric Surgery at Cincinnati Children’s, also spoke highly of Heymann. “She was a jewel. I remember when I operated on a child for eight to 10 hours, completing the surgery around 5 pm when the recovery room was closed. There was no surgical ICU in those days, so the patient went to the regular ward on the third floor, and he really needed constant nursing care. I expressed my concern, and Miss Heymann said, ‘I’ll take care of it.’ When I checked back later, she had procured a student nurse to stay over for a second eight-hour shift as a private duty nurse.

Martin cited another example of Heymann's leadership after his request to set up an ICU was declined. “Several nights later, I had a critical post-op patient, and I told Miss Heymann, who said, ‘We’re ready for him, come see.’ She took me to 5 East where she had set up a five-bed surgical ICU with a nurse. She had heard of my failed request, and she took matters into her own hands to make a surgical ICU happen. She was a star.”

Heymann was well-respected by her nursing staff, as well. During the blizzard of 1977, several of them stayed at work for three to four days. Said one, “At the beginning of each shift, she would line us up, give us a fresh scrub top and assign us a unit to work on. We would work two shifts, rest and start over again. She was so full of energy, she just glowed with the challenge.”

Heymann was a good judge of character, often hiring nurses over the phone. She rarely made a mistake, according to those who knew her. During their sabbaticals, she sent head nurses to other children’s hospitals for a month or two to observe practice, and she didn’t hesitate to assign an RN to work in Child Life if their knowledge of developmental needs required shoring up.

Said Harry Greene, MD, who was a chief resident and gastroenterology/nutrition fellow in the late 1960s, “Although some residents felt the sting of her concerns about their patients, I never heard her say anything negative about any house officer or attending physicians. In fact, I think she had more respect for the resident staff than most of us deserved.”

He added, “Many of the staff at Cincinnati Children’s had a major impact on my training, but none had a greater effect on my ability to recognize a serious problem in a child than Miss Heymann. Her only real concern was the welfare of ‘the kids,’ as she called all the patients. She was a true blessing to all those who had an opportunity to work with her. I know that I am a better doctor—and person—because of it.”

This article is excerpted from a profile written by staff historian Bill Gerhardt, MD, and published in the September 2008 issue of "Staff Bulletin."

Pauline Heymann, RN, was a proponent of situational awareness long before the term was applied to healthcare.

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