Nurse at UT Health retires after 50 years of service

Apr. 19—Relatives, friends and hospital staff gathered at the cafeteria at UT Health Jacksonville to celebrate nurse Debbie McCaslin's retirement after 50 years of service.

"Fifty years is a long time and it's just time for a new chapter," McCaslin said.

McCaslin, who began working at age 19 when the hospital was Nan Travis Memorial, said she always wanted to be a nurse. She said when she was young, the career opportunities were somewhat limited with the expectation that women would become nurses, teachers or secretaries.

"We've come a long way," McCaslin said.

With 50 years of experience, she has seen many changes during her tenure.

"The technology is a lot better than when we started out with pen and paper," McCaslin said. "There's a lot more patient safety and protections for nurses."

One challenge of her profession is dealing with the emotional toll.

"You compartmentalize. You can't take it home with you," McCaslin said. "You don't remember the fun times as much as you remember the sad times. I spent a few years over at [obstetrics] and most of the time was joyful."

McCaslin said she is going to miss the people, both coworkers and patients, as well as the challenges of the job.

Lab Manager Karen Colvin, a 43 year employee, characterized McCaslin as pleasant and easy going.

"I worked with her closely," Colvin said. "She's always got a smile on her face and she's just a pleasure to work with."

Chief Executive Officer DeLeigh Haley described McCaslin as very humble and selfless.

"Debbie is one of the most amazing people I've every worked with, not only is she one of the smartest nurses that I know, she is what we call a nurse's nurse," Haley said "She is there for everybody. She has the answers. She is one people go to when they need a question answered."

It is that fount of knowledge Haley said she will miss most about McCaslin's leaving.

"The continued success of this place is a testament to Debbie. The excellent care that we provide patients, Debbie was part of the foundation of that," Haley said. "I think the best legacy is the excellent care that we're going to provide patients at UT Health Jacksonville."

Another part of McCaslin's legacy is her niece Sandy Hamilton, who said she went into nursing because of McCaslin. A 42 year career veteran herself, Hamilton said she kept on her toes because she wanted to make McCaslin proud of her.

As for McCaslin's next steps, she said she's recently opened a resale booth at Treasure Cove Mall. She said she also plans to spend more time with her grandchildren.

McCaslin's advice for future nurses and health-care workers is simple; "Never stop learning."