‘It’s rewarding to know you’ve helped ease their process’
Julie Barkema, one of Iowa’s great nurses, prides herself on patient care
Early on in her nursing career, Julie Barkema was called upon to explain mortality to three young children who were about to lose their mother.
“The mother was terminally ill and asked me to explain the dying process to them,” Barkema, of Fort Dodge, said. “I told her I would, even though I was dreading it.”
Barkema was working as a floor nurse at UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center in Fort Dodge in the early 1990s at the time.
It wasn’t easy, but the conversation went better than she anticipated.
“At the time I was nervous and uneasy doing that because it was out of my comfort zone,” Barkema said. “But I think the kids and the patient responded positively. They kind of understood mom is going to go to sleep and not wake up.”
She explained some of the physical changes that may happen and hoped the children would be better prepared.
“As a mother, you are always trying to protect your kids and having someone else break that news was easier on her,” Barkema said. “I was grateful to be able to do that for her.”
Barkema, a Fort Dodge Senior High graduate, has spent more than 30 years caring for others during some of the most challenging moments in life.
She is a registered nurse and oncology certified nurse at Trinity Cancer Center and Infusion Center. She has been a nurse at UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center since 1991.
Barkema was honored as one of the 100 Great Iowa Nurses in 2018. More than 500 nurses were nominated.
She also won a FOCUS Luminary Award in 2018. According to information from UnityPoint Health, the LuminaryAward was created to recognize UnityPoint team members who go above and beyond to show the people they serve how much they matter to this world.
Barkema was nominated by Linda Whaley, retired vice president of patient experiences and ancillary services at UnityPoint.
Barkema said she feels appreciated at the hospital.
“I feel they are my family,” she said. “They treat you like family. Administration knows who you are. They are welcoming and you feel part of the family here.”
Being a nurse is something she’s known she wanted to do for a long time.
“Always,” Barkema said. “It’s something that has always been with me. Sometimes I feel like the nursing profession chose me instead of me choosing it.”
She graduated from Iowa Methodist School of Nursing in Des Moines in 1986. She worked at Iowa Methodist Medical Center for about three years. She also worked at Dickinson County Memorial Hospital in Spirit Lake and at Spencer Hospital in Spencer before returning to Fort Dodge.
“When I first started here I worked on 2 North, basically a medical floor,” Barkema said. “By doing that I feel like I obtained a lot of general knowledge as far as the many different medical problems someone would arrive with.”
In 2004 she transferred to the Cancer Center, where she eventually became the charge nurse.
One of her responsibilities is upholding the Commission on Cancer standards.
“I review our pathology reports to make sure the synoptic report is complete,” Barkema said. “That’s very specific to the Cancer Center. No other nurses in the hospital would be doing that.”
Barkema typically works four 10-hour days., from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
“If I am in the Cancer Center, we provide the lab service, so we access patients’ infuse reports, do their lab work prior to them seeing their oncologist,” she said.
Depending on the day, she might see anywhere from 20 to 60 patients.
“In the Infusion center, we can give antibiotics, blood transfusions, bone strengtheners, chemotherapy,” Barkema said.
There, she sees up to 20 patients.
Most of the time she works with one other nurse and a patient care technician.
“You have to stay organized and have to stay focused,” Barkema said. “It’s a lot of detail and organization to stay on top of everyone’s infusions and the times.”
She takes pride in providing comfort for patients.
“I like patient care the most,” she said. “I like the fact that I can make somebody’s day a little better hopefully. I like the caring and personal relationships I can develop with them. Just to be there for them. If I can help them with something to make their day a little better.”
Making sure patients are getting the appointments when they need them is a constant priority.
Her work in the Cancer Center is challenging, but rewarding, she said.
“Taking care of a dying patient is a rewarding experience if you can help them transition and help their family transition,” Barkema said. “If we can suggest something to make their side effects less or helping in those conversations. Helping the family adjust to those conversations. It’s challenging at times, but it’s also rewarding to know you’ve helped ease their process.”