Buffalo nurse hangs up cap after 54 years and reflects on career of care

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)–A Buffalo woman, who spent more than five decades caring for sick patients, is hanging up her nurse’s cap.

1967 is the same year Super Bowl I was played, the year Elvis Presley was married, and back when Lyndon B. Johnson was president.

1967 was 54 years ago.

It also marked the start of a long journey in healthcare for Carolyn Dowling, but her interest peaked many years before.

“In middle school one year, I think I asked for the invisible woman — they had an invisible man too — I think the organs lit up. I was just always interested in how the body worked and I liked helping people,” said Carolyn.

The Buffalo native got her feet wet through a program called “candy stripers” her sophomore and junior years at Sacred Heart.

After nursing school, she found herself at Sister’s Hospital.

It’s where she spent the next 5 and a half decades, eventually overseeing nursing throughout the entire hospital.

“You’re covering the emergency room. The ICU, all of O.B. — we have a big mother baby section, post-partum units, newborn nursery and a level 3 NICU which has just expanded in the last couple of years,” she said.

A gamut of responsibility… she always managed to connect with patients.

She’ll never forget the relationship she formed with young girl suffering from Crohn’s disease.

“We’d exchange Christmas cards for awhile and just because well she was very familiar to me. She would always come as a patient on our floor. I think she would request it on ‘4 West’ so we developed a special bond,” explained Carolyn.

She’s experienced the evolution of medicine; new machines, new technique, new cures, and also the growth of Sister’s.

“You know how buildings will go through changes… I saw it all, I know, I’ve become kind of a mini expert. I pride myself on knowing the history,” she said.

Historian should really be Carolyn’s middle name.

She thrives in Sister’s heritage corridor.

At 54-years, she’s the hospital’s longest-tenured nurse.

It’s a career that could’ve been called at least a decade before, but in true hero fashion, this nurse chose to care during a time when she was the vulnerable one — during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think you are a bit fearful but for some reason it’s part of your job and you just do it. We’ve taken care of isolation patients in the past, but this was certainly different,” explained Carolyn.

She used her many years on the surgical floor to help guide her through uncharted waters.
But, she never worried about her own safety.

She had a duty… a pledge she took when she received her cap and stethoscope many years ago.

“When you see someone who’s ill you see them at their absolute worst, you know and a nurse can make a difference. It can make a complete turnaround. You can cheer them up and talk to them about their diagnosis and educate them. Nurses do a lot of educating,” said Carolyn.

Her care set an example that other nurses at Sister’s still follow.

“I’ve always tried to lead kind of quietly. Be more of a quiet leader, you know, and support the staff and their decisions and work together as a team,” she said.

The power behind a quiet leader, humble and hard to replicate.

“Not one person can achieve this but as a team we can get this done,” she said with a smile as she paused to reflect on her long career.

Now during her retired life, Carolyn can dedicate more time to doing some of her favorite activities like stitching and dancing.

Melanie Orlins is an anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of her work here.

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