When Debbie Pender’s coworkers nominated her as a March of Dimes Oklahoma nurse of the year, she didn’t expect to win, but obliged and filled out the applications anyway.
The annual event recognizes exceptional nursing professionals in various areas of patient care like critical care, emergency and education.
 “You have to kind of brag on yourself, which is hard,” Pender said. “But because you fill out the application, it’s not a surprise when you’re nominated. It becomes a surprise when you’ve made it to the top 3 in the state.”
Last week, Pender was recognized as one of 18 Nurses of the Year at an awards ceremony in Oklahoma City.
“It was really exciting. I took my leadership team with me and it was fun to get to dress up and go to the actual event,” Pender said.
Pender has worked in nursing for 32 years and has worked for Mercy for the last 11. In that time she’s served as a nursing director and was recognized in the Nursing Administration category for her work as a chief nursing officer.
“I’m not at the bedside, but I huddle with directors every day and huddle with the frontline nurses,” Pender said. “I advocate for nurses, making sure they have what they need to do their job. That’s my world, really listening to them. It was about encouraging bedside nurses in their practice and it means maintaining a work environment that is healthy for nurses.”
Pender said if there’s one thing she wishes people knew about the profession, it’s the level of dedication it requires.
“Nurses wear a lot of hats in just one day, they have a lot of different departments they have to work with to give the best care.” Pender said. “You have to be tenacious, because there’s so many different distractions. It’s being brave, standing up to challenges and being sincere.”
Pender said the ever-changing standards, methods and regulations of nursing pose another challenge.
“You have to deal with a lot of changes, nurses have to be willing to learn a lot,” Pender said. “You can’t just stop learning. It’s not easy, but our nurses are very dedicated to that. The good nurses, the ones who stay, they really care about their patients. It’s not an easy job.”