Alice Gaunt has a real history with her patients
By Suzi Taylor
South County Magazine, April 2010
When someone has been working at the same job for more than 50 years and still can’t wait to start a new day at work, it is pretty obvious she made the right career choice. Alice Gaunt, Family Nurse Practitioner for one of Mee Memorial Hospital’s clinics, is living proof that a vocation can be fulfilling on almost every level
“When I was a child I stitched up horses when they got cut while my dad held them steady,” she recalled of her childhood on the family ranch in the Bitterwater Valley. “I also got to go to a two-room school. I loved that and taking care of the animals.”
After graduation from King City High School, she headed to Santa Clara Medical Center where she earned her RN from San Jose State. “I had a cousin and two friends who became nurses so I followed in their footsteps.” Nurses training at that time was not nearly as complex as it is now. “We couldn’t start IVs, but over the years it has changed and nurses now can and are expected to perform quite a number of procedures.”
She had no desire to stay away from her small home town, so she came back to King City in 1952 and immediately went to work for L.M. “Old Doc” Andrus at the old King City Hospital which was on Broadway where the King City True Value Shopping Center sits today. “We had 12 hours shifts and not many days off because there weren’t a lot of nurses in the area.” She named of some of the nurses she worked with when she worked at the King City Hospital – Elda Hulburt, Victoria Banquero, Wilma Taylor, Peggy Cleary and Rose Prewett was her nursing supervisor. The hospital at that time was only about 20 beds, but patients stayed a lot longer than they do now. “We had to give a lot of TLC, along with the medical care.”
She then worked in a clinic setting for Dr. John Green and then Dr. Richard Ames, both general practitioners. Then in 1960 she went to work at the SoMoCo Medical Group. “We were getting ready to build the new hospital and the new clinic right next to it (Elliott-Fisher Building). It was a big deal.”
A few years later, the Rural Health Project, a pilot program funded by the federal government and the vision of Dr. L.H. (Hughes) Andrus, was operating hand in hand with the local medical community. “In addition to my nursing duties, I trained nurses’ aides for the Rural Health Project after hours.”
And then CPR (cardio pulmonary resuscitation) was developed. “I took Resusci Annie all over Monterey and San Benito County to teach about CPR. For those who didn’t have to learn the life-saving technique back in those days, Resusci Annie was a mannequin designed to accurately simulate the human respiratory system and external body landmarks in order to facilitate training. “I carted her to various schools and places where we had classes. The technique was new and people were anxious to learn CPR.”
By that time, Gaunt said, nursing education was really being broadened as more and more improvements were made in the medical field. And that meant more medical equipment. “They were a pain to learn, but a godsend because they helped so many people.”
In the early ‘70s, L.H Andrus got involved in a nurse practitioner program offered at UC Davis. “He got a grant from the Johnson Family Foundation and Alice and Betty Ortali, plus a nurse from Hollister and one from Los Banos were flown two times a week to Davis for training. Occasionally they would spend a week at Davis for more intense training. “It was really something in that small plane heading out from King City Airport.”
With a 1975 graduation from UC Davis School of Medicine, Gaunt and her “plane mates” were nurse practitioners. “We were trained to examine patients physically evaluate the findings and choose appropriate procedures and medications.” All of that is under the supervision of a M.D. “When we came back to King City we had Dr. Nash and Dr. Hyde as our prefectures. We really learned a lot.”
Dealing with patients in her new role wasn’t as difficult as convincing fellow nurses that they needed to follow her orders. “The best thing about all of this is that we get to help people feel better.”
Looking back over her decades of experience, Gaunt said the development of polio vaccine in the ‘50s was the biggest medical development as far as she is concerned. “It was so heartbreaking seeing those kids laying there in an iron lung,” she said with sadness in her voice. “Now polio is almost eliminated.”
Gaunt has been a nurse practitioner for 37 tears in August. The spry 78-year-old has no intention of retiring. “The longest time I have ever taken off is the 10 weeks after I broke my hip in January. I was at Mee for 12 days of rehab after my hip surgery. It was the warmest feeling coming here.
“I love getting up in the morning and coming to this practice. Things have changed and we have so many diagnostic tools today, but you still have to use your brain and your hands. L.M. Andrus always said, ‘Listen to your patients, they will tell you what is wrong.’”
Gaunt said she would encourage anyone interested to go into the medical field. “It doesn’t mean you have to be a nurse or a doctor. There are so many aspects of medical care and they all need good people. It is a very rewarding career. If you are just able to fluff up a pillow to make someone more comfortable and lend a hand, then you have made life just a little better for someone.”
In her off time, Gaunt has traveled the world visiting Europe, China and all over. She and her husband Jim, who passed away nine years ago, even went to the top of the Matterhorn on a train. But she doesn’t have to be in foreign lands to enjoy herself; give her a good book, a garden to work in or a day to walk on her Bitterwater ranch and she is happy. But seeing her patients makes her the happiest.
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