November 1, 2018

Hidden Figures event honors skills, resiliency, ingenuity

The Vanderbilt University Medical Center Office for Diversity Affairs held the second annual Hidden VUMC Figures event Oct. 29 in Light Hall.

From left, Jesse Britton Sr., Martha Young and Odessa Settles were recognized for their contributions to the Medical Center at the second annual Hidden VUMC Figures event. Adrienne Ames, MSN, right, spoke on behalf of Rosamond Gabrielson, who was recognized posthumously. (photo by Susan Urmy)

The Vanderbilt University Medical Center Office of Diversity Affairs held the second annual Hidden VUMC Figures event Oct. 29 in Light Hall.

“The figures we honor today, once hidden without the acknowledgment, are illuminated in the bright light of celebration and gratitude from all of us who make up our VUMC community,” said André Churchwell, MD, Chief Diversity Officer for VUMC, as he welcomed those attending the recognition ceremony. “In the coming years we will routinely acknowledge others from across VUMC for their skills, resiliency, ingenuity and hard work that make our medical center one of the greatest in the world.”

Lillian Nanney, PhD, professor of Plastic Surgery, emerita, introduced honoree Jesse Britton Sr., whose 55-year career began in the anatomy/pathology department when he was 25. He assisted pathology residents while they learned and performed autopsies. He was proficient at embedding, sectioning and staining paraffin blocks for pathology reports, organizing and filing millions of blocks in Vanderbilt’s pathology tissue bank. In 1984, he was recruited to be the workhorse behind the anatomical donations program. He briefly retired at 65, but soon returned to the autopsy service in pathology where he worked for another seven years.

“We had a system. Jesse had a book; we wrote instructions. Jesse would read my sketchy plans in the book and go about cutting sections and doing my experiments and literally making my dreams come true. By morning time, the work would be on my desk,” Nanney told the audience.

Adrienne Ames, MSN, adjunct associate professor of Nursing, introduced posthumous honoree Rosamond Gabrielson, RN, who arrived at VUMC in 1976 as the director of Nursing, immediately following her tenure as president of the American Nurses Association. During her 12 years at Vanderbilt, she helped establish nursing bylaws and staff action committees, which ultimately led to what is now known as shared governance. She retired from Vanderbilt in 1988 and died in 2000. Her legacy left a significant footprint on Vanderbilt nursing.

“I know she is the most courageous, visionary leader I have ever worked with. She was an amazing individual,” Ames said. “She was a strong advocate for the staff nurse and anyone who was at the clinical level of nursing. She was dedicated to the patient and to those taking care of patients.”

Paul Moore, MD, professor of Pediatrics, introduced honoree Odessa Settles, MSN, who started at Vanderbilt in 1969 as a nursing assistant in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), working under the tutelage of Mildred Stahlman, MD. After graduating from the University of Tennessee, Settles returned to the NICU as a staff nurse. Vanderbilt’s Angel I Newborn Emergency Transport Ambulance made its maiden transport in 1974 with Settles on board. She eventually became the transport practitioner lead in 1999. She is the coordinator of the bronchial pulmonary dysplasia follow-up clinic and NICU follow-up clinic and participates in research projects and is a frequent guest speaker on racism in nursing.

“I am grateful to Odessa and for the care she provides to our patients. She has been a wonderful colleague to many of us for so long and we’re so glad to honor her today,” Moore said.

Charlene Dewey, MD, M.Ed, professor of Medical Education and Administration and Medicine, and her colleague Melissa Redmon, LPN, introduced the final honoree, Martha Young. After high school Young became an LPN and worked at George Hubbard Hospital and then entered private practice before joining VUMC in 1992. At that time she was the first and only African-American nurse in several outpatient clinics and departments where she worked including fertility and reproductive medicine, OB-GYN and internal medicine. She has remained in the internal medicine acute care practice clinic for the past 21 years.

“I’ve been privileged to work with Martha for the last 10 years now. There have been plenty of people who have come and gone in that clinic, and Martha is the stable rock that has never left, never wavered,” Dewey said. “It’s been a pleasure to see Martha work with the rest of the team and how much she cares about the patients and how she knows all the patients by name, and stories about them and their families.”