Melissa Benson lives to heal and care for others

November 2, 2017

Starr Regional Medical Center's first DAISY was a late bloomer - but once she bloomed, she bloomed brightly.

Melissa Benson, RN - the first recipient of Starr Regional's DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses - always knew she wanted to be a nurse.

"Since I was eight years old, I knew," she said. "I can remember my Mamaw had swelling on her legs. My mother would dress her legs and I would help. I didn't choose nursing - it chose me."

But, life made a few other choices before that could happen.

"I'd planned to go into nursing in high school, but I fell in love," Benson said. "But, I stayed in the medical field and have been in it since 1987. I started as a CNA (certified nursing assistant) in a nursing home, then became a certified medical assistant and did that for twenty years. In 2005, I went to Cleveland State and then finished my bachelor's degree in nursing at Tennessee Wesleyan in 2010. I did it backwards, but I became a nurse."

Benson considers her previous experiences all part of her nursing education.

"I've worked in the front office, back office, as an office manager, I started nursing as an acute care nurse and then was on the floor at the nursing home before I became MDS (Minimum Data Set) director, where I monitored resident care, and then became assistant director of nursing," Benson said. "You learn something no matter where you are in life and in your profession. CNA was my starting point, and I built on that.

"The medical field is always changing," she added, "but what doesn't change is that people need healing and that you never stop caring. You work hard to make that happen no matter where you are in life or in your career. I approach nursing from a holistic standpoint. You have to treat the person, not just the disease - mentally, physically, emotionally, and even spiritually."

Her nominator for the DAISY Award took notice of this.

"I have seen her desk piled high and she would be so busy, but she would stop and take as much time as needed to calm or talk to a resident, whatever it takes to make sure they get what they need," the letter of nomination said. "Always a friendly face, a calm voice with everyone. Each resident is treated with care and respect. If she needs to be floor nurse, CNA, whatever during her day, she never complains and keeps going. We need more people like her in our workplace and lives."

"This is a very big honor," Benson said of receiving the DAISY Award. "I'm sure there are other people out there who are worthy. I have a great team and I have the residents - they're all my family. I do it because it's my calling. I love it."

Outside of work, Benson and her husband, Rob, operate a rafting company - Big Frog Expeditions - on the Ocoee River near their hometown of Etowah.

"We have five children between us that we enjoy spending time with, and we have seven grandbabies," Benson said. "They are special, the grandbabies - my parents said if they'd known how much fun grandbabies were, they'd have had them first."

Starr Regional Medical Center campuses in Athens and Etowah are seeking the community's help to recognize the work of outstanding local nurses through participation in the DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses program.

The not-for-profit DAISY Foundation, based in Glen Ellen, Calif., was established by family members in memory of J. Patrick Barnes, who died at the age of 33 in late 1999 from complications of Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP), a little-known but not uncommon auto-immune disease. The care Barnes and his family received from nurses while he was ill inspired this unique means of thanking nurses for making a profound difference in the lives of their patients and patient families.

"When Patrick was critically ill, our family experienced first-hand the remarkable skill and care nurses provide patients every day and night," said Bonnie Barnes, FAAN, president and co-founder of The DAISY Foundation. "Yet these unsung heroes are seldom recognized for the super-human work they do. The kind of work the nurses at Starr Regional Medical Center are called on to do every day epitomizes the purpose of The DAISY Award."

Nurses may be nominated by patients, families, and colleagues, and they are chosen by a committee of nurses at Starr Regional to receive The DAISY Award. Awards will be given quarterly at presentations given in front of the nurse's colleagues, physicians, patients, and visitors. Each honoree will receive a certificate commending her or him for being an "Extraordinary Nurse." The certificate reads: "In deep appreciation of all you do, who you are, and the incredibly meaningful difference you make in the lives of so many people." The honoree will also be given a beautiful and meaningful sculpture called A Healer's Touch, hand-carved by artists of the Shona Tribe in Africa.

Nomination forms are available in lobbies, nursing units, cafeterias, emergency rooms, and other locations in Starr Regional's Athens and Etowah campuses, or by clicking here.

Courtesy Greg Moses, Editor, The Daily Post Athenain