Karen Burkett lives dream to work in nursing

Each year, five women are chosen by the Punxsutawney Career Women’s Club for Career Women’s Week, which this year runs through Nov. 13. The criteria used for choosing these women are based not only on their professional efforts, but also on the contributions they have made to community and family.
The club was founded in 1930, originally known as Punxsutawney Business & Professional Women’s Club. Sept. 8, 1998, the club name was changed and incorporated as a non-profit organization under the name of Punxsutawney Career Women’s Club, with objectives to promote growth and respect of women in the workplace; improve self-esteem in all careers; educate women; and support community projects.

By Larry McGuire
Of The Spirit

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Karen Burkett, RN, OCN, is doing precisely what she has always wanted to do, which is work as a nurse.

Not only is she a full-time nurse, she also spends her free time volunteering for various organizations throughout the area.

Burkett works for West Penn Allegheny Oncology, located on the second floor of the West Wing at Punxsutawney Area Hospital.

She said the person who first got her interested in nursing was her mother’s best friend, Pat Kellert, who worked as a nurse at the former Adrian Hospital on Park Avenue.

“Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be just like Pat when I got older because I had so much adoration for what she did,” Burkett said. “She was an amazing lady. She was 74 and worked as a nurse until late last year.

“Pat retired once, and didn’t like it and went back to work,” Burkett said.

Burkett graduated in 1974 from Mercy Hospital School of Nursing in Pittsburgh, and then began her career at the former Adrian Hospital, beginning with the 3 to 11 p.m. shift in the emergency room — a room that didn’t have any emergency room doctors.

“If someone came into the emergency room, we had to call the family doctor to come in to treat the patient’s ailment,” Burkett said. “When I think back to that now, what was I thinking? I was fresh from nursing school and dove right in to a high pressure job.”

That was when Dr. Charles Seitz and Dr. Ernest P. Gigliotti were caring for patients in Punxsy.

“I feel honored to have worked with them, especially Dr. Gigliotti, who was a great orthopedic physician,” Burkett said. “Whenever Dr. Seitz would be called to the emergency room, no matter what time of day or night it was, he always had on his black suit with a white shirt and his skinny little black tie. Today, everyone wears scrubs in and out of the emergency room.”

“Back then, nurses wore white, and a cap, and you were very proud of it,” she said. “Your cap was distinctive because it represented the nursing school you graduated from.”

Having worked as a nurse for 36 years, Burkett said one event in her career that stands out is the day the Adrian Hospital closed, and the patients and much of the equipment moved to the new Punxsutawney Area Hospital on Hillcrest Drive in Young Township.

“That was an experience — moving an entire hospital from one location to another,” she said.

Burkett also worked in home healthcare for 16 years, which she said was a completely different style of nursing, “which brings us back to the wide variety of nursing jobs,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be in a hospital setting. There’s so much you can do in this field.”

Burkett recalled Ginny Haines, a nurse who also works for West Penn Allegheny Oncology Network, encouraging her to join her in the oncology clinic.

“The practice was growing, and Ginny, who I worked with in home health, was instrumental in getting my certification in oncology nursing,” she said.

Oncology is taking care of patients with cancer.

“I did use it a lot in home health, but she knew that oncology was where my heart was,” Burkett said. “So when the opportunity came, Ginny asked me to join them in the practice with Dr. Jose Silva, and I made the move.”

Silva is also a hematologist, who deals with diseases of the blood, such as anemia.

“I love working with the oncology patients, because they’ve taught me so much,” Burkett said. “They all have such great attitudes and outlooks.”

When asked if it can be depressing working in a cancer office, she said, “It isn’t. It’s sad when we lose someone, but for the most part, it’s uplifting — a great place to work. I think they’re (cancer patients) a courageous and strong people in the way they deal with what life has handed them,” Burkett said. “The word cancer scares people when they first hear it.”

Burkett said she enjoys her job and will do it until she retires.

“I was thinking that I seem to be splitting my career into thirds,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll stay here another 10 years or not, or if I’ll be here until I retire. It is a wonderful place to work. Everybody that I work with is fantastic.”

There’s even some fun in the office, Burkett said.

“That may sound strange at an oncology office, but we do have a lot of fun and laughs,” she said. “Recovery rates continue to rise in cancer treatment, and early detection is a key factor in someone’s recovery.”

Burkett is also involved in the American Cancer Society’s “I Can Cope” program, in which she has served as one of the local group’s co-facilitators for the last eight years. She also lauded the “Our Journey Together” support group and has been active with the Relay For Life.

She is a member of Ss. Cosmas & Damian Roman Catholic Church in Punxsy, serves as a parish nurse and volunteers for the St. Vincent DePaul Food Bank. As a hospital eucharistic minister, she takes communion to parishioners in the hospital.

Burkett recently became involved in the Clearfield/Jefferson Suicide Prevention Team.

“It’s the three Fs that get me through each day: Faith, family and friends are what get me through along with my three grandchildren, Blake and Emma Burkett and Evan Sproat.”

Burkett said her husband Dan, to whom she’s been married for 35 years, is a source of strength along with her daughter Jenica.

The Burketts had lost their son, Devin Burkett, recently, which has been a hardship for their family and friends.

Burkett said the reason why she’s involved in the many organizations can be found on her refrigerator door: “Christ has no other hands than ours.”

“I love that quote, and that’s the reason why I have it on my refrigerator door,” she said. “That is the reason that I do what I do.”