Emergency room nurse Kim Willbee draws on experience

Kim Willbee posted on Monday, August 31, 2020 in  Alumni Profiles

WATERLOO — Kim Willbee’s path to becoming a nurse started in a hospital bed with a ruptured colon.

“I almost died,” Willbee said. “I spent about four years getting five different surgeries, and at the risk of sounding really corny, that’s what helped me come to know how important nurses were.”

Willbee, who was honored as one of the 2020 Cedar Valley Top 10 Nurses, said her experience not only led to a later-than-normal career choice to join the profession but also gave her insight into caring for patients.

“Towards the end of all my surgeries I just was super weak, super tired, and it was the nurses and the CNAs who really got me over the hump,” Willbee said. “I was very young when that happened and I felt less than human.

“I had a certified nursing assistant come in and just shave my legs. She was really pivotal in making me realize I just wasn’t somebody’s job, but that she saw me as a person.

“That’s critical, because we do this every day and it would be easy to see somebody as their diagnosis,” she added. “You need to see them as an individual. You need to see them as a human being.”

The 54-year-old Waverly native, who now lives in Tripoli, got into nursing around age 40 and earned her degree at Hawkeye Community College. She now works as a registered nurse in the emergency room at MercyOne Waterloo Medical Center.

“I can feel a connectedness to a lot of the patients we take care of in the ER,” Willbee said. “Because I got into it a little later in life and because I’ve had more life experiences due to, I’ll just say, my poor choices, I can identify with people with addictions, people with mental illness, certainly people with (gastrointestinal) issues.

“I love the ER,” she added. “I like how diverse our patient population is. We get to experience every type of diagnosis, every type of experience.”

Willbee’s dedication is apparent to her co-workers, including Amanda Snell, who nominated her for Top 10 honor.

“She goes above and beyond for every single patient that she takes care of,” Snell said. “She makes sure that every patient and family feels taken care of, heard and recognized.

“She has held the hands of so many to help their anxiety, pain or ease their fears,” she added. “Kim is fearless when advocating for her patients. Kim is a unique, quirky, gentle, kind and through person that MercyOne and Waterloo is lucky to have.”

Willbee, meanwhile, credits the Top 10 Nurse honor to the “team-oriented and patient-focused environment” in the MercyOne ER.

“I am one face, but I am representing a whole department,” Willbee said. “There is no way one nurse can make any kind of difference without those nurses that come alongside.

“If I did anything that made a patient feel important,” she added, “it’s because of the teamwork that’s around to ensure that all the other patients are being well cared for.”

By Tim Jamison, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier


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