Meet Maribeth Gallagher: Advocate for Dementia Patients and Caregivers

How long have you been a nurse and what areas of nursing did you or do you currently work in?

In 1975, I graduated from a diploma RN school in NYC. Over the years, I pursued various interests in psychiatry, emergency, telemetry, pediatrics, rehab and oncology. Then, I took a detour and became a professional singer for many years, but I always missed nursing. Eventually, I went back to school. I currently serve as director of the dementia program at Hospice of the Valley. I am a board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.

Tell me your biggest pet peeves about nursing.

I don’t think we recognize our true value. We have the opportunity to make a pivotal difference in the experiences of our patients and their loved ones, regardless of disease outcomes.

What do you love most about nursing?

Most of all, I love that nursing provides me with an opportunity to offer a compassionate presence for individuals in very vulnerable moments of their lives.

What throws you off balance and how do you know you are out of balance?

When I become so busy that I create excuses to put off making the time to nurture myself, I place myself at risk for shifting to an unhealthy state. I recognize that I’m off balance when I start to feel overwhelmed, impatient or lack empathy.

What brings you back into balance?

I re-prioritized my needs for adequate rest, daily mindfulness practice, laughter and play- even if it’s just for brief moments.

Tell me your craziest story as a nurse.

Ah….perhaps the craziest are not fit for print. Instead, may I offer something touching? I was asked to consult on a woman with advanced dementia who was a ‘behavior problem’ on a dementia unit in a nursing home. She was labeled ‘intrusive’ because she insisted on hobbling around and going into every resident’s room, touching them gently on the shoulder while saying something unintelligible in a gentle tone. She did this several times per day, and the staff wanted to know if there was a medication to make her stop. Practicing the principle that behaviors have meaning, we explored WHY this woman would demonstrate such a behavior. We learned that she was a retired nurse and ultimately realized that in her mind, she was making ‘rounds’ on all her patients. This brought great meaning, purpose and satisfaction to this woman. The staff realized that that if ‘rounding’ would not cause distress to the other residents on the unit, that they would continue to closely monitor the woman for safety, and frequently thank her for being a wonderful nurse. We were touched to consider the possibility that even in the advanced stage of dementia…. ‘once a nurse, always a nurse’.

Tell me about your most favorite nursing job and why.

My current role serving people with advanced dementia and their loved ones in hospice is my favorite role ever! I have the privilege of witnessing how our value as human beings extends beyond cognitive functions. I get to connect more deeply with the unique individuals before me and help them live their best life possible in spite of their declining conditions. My role requires me to bring the very best of myself to others, and most days, I find that a fascinating and very meaningful challenge in how I choose to spend my days and use the gifts I have been given.

What advice would you give to new grads starting out?

Hang in there….I believe it’s safe to say we’ve all had our moments of serious doubts and fears. Reach out and share your challenges with someone who can hold the space to listen and help you find the resources you need to carry on.There are so many dimensions to nursing and perhaps even more that you can innovate, so it’s highly likely you will find the place where you purpose and passion align to bring you great satisfaction and enrich the world.