Nikki Swarts has lived in Lincoln practically her entire life, and she's worked in healthcare since graduating high school.
But it wasn't until she was a surgery patient at Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital that she realized she should have a career in her hometown.
"The care I got was really good," Nikki recalls. "They were all very nice and stayed nearby, answering all the questions I had."
When the ALMH staff discovered Nikki was a nurse working on the kidney unit at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, they began encouraging her to apply for an opening at ALMH.
She applied online in February 2007, got called the next day and ultimately was hired to work in Med/Surg. Nikki works the night shift Friday through Sunday. It's a schedule that works ideally for her family, which includes husband, T.J., a Corrections officer, and children Kody, Shelby and Austin.
"You get to know your patients and their families a little better at night," Nikki says. "You really get to spend some quality time with people. They really seem to appreciate that."
She enjoys being able to give really good care to patients at ALMH, where she says patients can enjoy a small, hometown feeling that includes the occasional friendly face.
Nikki's path to nursing was set in her childhood. Her sister suffers from cystic fibrosis, and her grandmother had cardiomyopathy. She spent a lot of time in hospitals with her family and always appreciated her grandmother's attitude toward her care.
"She was always very thankful for all the care she got," Nikki remembers. "She was appreciative of everything, no matter what."
After high school, Nikki worked as a nursing technician for 11 years at Lincoln Developmental Center, which has since closed. She always knew she would return to school to become an LPN. She finished training for that at Capital Area Career Center in Springfield and went on to get her bachelor's degree in nursing from McMurray College in Jacksonville.
Nikki worked at Memorial Medical Center for about five years before coming to ALMH. Now she lives a few blocks from work and handles about four to five patients on any given shift. She enjoys the team approach at ALMH, where she says it is truly a great place to work.
"There's a really good attitude here. People enjoy coming to work here," she says. "Everybody tries their best to work together. Management is willing to listen to suggestions, which is nice."
One of the challenges to being a nurse, Nikki says, is learning various computer systems, as nursing is virtually paperless. She's also faced a wider variety of patients at ALMH then she did at Memorial, where she treated only adults.
"A challenge for me personally is pediatrics because I didn't deal with pediatric patients on my floor (at Memorial)," she says. "It's hard to understand what's wrong when the patient isn't able to tell you."
Working in a more rural setting also doesn't provide as many opportunities to do some procedures, such as GI tubes. But overall, Nikki says working at ALMH still offers her the chance to learn something new every day. In fact, she could rattle off something she picked up at her last shift.
ALMH is also a place where she knows she'll find appreciation, even for very small things. One patient recently wrote her a very long letter thanking Nikki and others at ALMH who helped her during her stay.
"That was really nice that she appreciated her care so much she sent a note about it," Nikki says.