Margurite Douglas, who is marking 60 years of employment at Vanderbilt in 2011, will be honored at the annual Service Awards Celebration scheduled from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13, in Langford Auditorium. University and medical center employees celebrating 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60 years of service will be recognized at the event, and this year’s winners of the Commodore Award will be announced.
Douglas came to work at Vanderbilt University Hospital in January 1951, when the facility was located in what is now Medical Center North.
“I came as a secretary,” said Douglas, a Davidson County native. “Being raised in a country school, you were basically trained for office work of some sort. So I had all the typing, shorthand and everything that goes with it — a little bookkeeping, a little Xerox, adding machines — everything you would need in an office setting back then.”
Douglas worked in the cardiopulmonary department when open heart surgeries were just beginning to be performed.
“We had one technician, a woman named Ann Pride, doing EKGs for the whole hospital. The demand back then was such that one person could do it,” Douglas remembered. “I would watch her — it was more interesting than typing — and she taught me how to do the EKGs.
“Dorothy Bishop was the one who did blood gas analysis for the cardiac catheterizations,” said Douglas, who learned that skill as well. “I had no idea until I came to work here that there were so many, many things you could do besides being a nurse or a doctor. It just opened up a whole new world for me.”
Douglas’ facility for math and attention to detail made her a prime candidate for on-the-job training in the then-novel procedures.
“The surgeons needed a continuous check on their patients while they were in surgery, so I would analyze their blood gases for them,” Douglas said. “As a matter of fact, we had the only Van Slyke (an apparatus for measuring blood gases) at that time, and you made all your reagents before you could run the blood, so it was a time-consuming thing. Then International Laboratories came out with a little blood gas machine and reagents that you could buy already made — you didn’t have to go through all that each morning before you could use it.
“Over time, everything became easier. The equipment was streamlined — you didn’t go through so many motions,” said Douglas, who became a licensed medical technologist in 1965.
Douglas has witnessed the hospital expand beyond patient care to cutting-edge research. She has seen it expand physically as well.
“I worked in Medical Center North in the days before they started closing in the porches and building on the front and building on the back, building up and down. I saw them open the current medical center (in 1985), the Children’s Hospital and the ambulatory center here,” said Douglas, referring to The Vanderbilt Clinic, where she currently works in the Pulmonary Function Lab.
“I have seen it all — all the new equipment that’s come on the market, more research being done and, of course, many more employees and physicians to do the research. … It’s been an amazing journey for me to see all this.
“My little part of it has been on the sidelines looking in, but it’s been good to see it all happening.”
Douglas will be 81 in November. She never expected to work years beyond the usual retirement age.
“This was sort of a happening, not a planned event by any means. I lost my husband 21 years ago this month. My children were grown, married and away from home, and that left me alone. Even the dog died,” she said with a chuckle. “My medical director didn’t care if I didn’t retire at 65, so I’ve stayed — and enjoyed being here.”
Douglas does plan to retire in the next year or so and spend more time with her family. She’s a proud mother of two sons, the doting grandmother of three, and a devoted daughter to her own mother, who is still “lively” at 97.
For Douglas, what has been the best part about working at Vanderbilt?
“The people,” she said. “They are just really good, intelligent, hard-working people.
“There are still a lot of roads to be investigated, and I’m sure they will be eventually,” she said. “But I’ve just seen so much and been so proud of everybody who’s been involved in it. It has truly been a wonderful journey for me.”
Click here to see the list of employees being honored at Tuesday’s Service Awards Celebration.