Heart of Gold

The Inspiring Practice of One Remarkable Nurse

When you think of what a nurse embodies, the terms selflessness, compassion and clinical expertise most likely come to mind. For one UW Health nurse, these qualities seem to make up the very fiber of her being, which has translated into a remarkable practice that has impacted countless lives, near and far.

Hear firsthand from one of our most accomplished nurses, Susan Gold, BSN, RN, ACRN, about her inspiring and impressive 26-plus-year nursing career.

You came into the nursing profession in your 30s. What was your reason for making a career change?

SG: Growing up with very limited resources it took me 20 years to graduate college! When we moved to Madison and our youngest was two, I decided it was time to finish my degree. The nursing profession was something to which I always felt drawn. It’s what matched me. My parents raised me and my seven siblings with the philosophy that a life well lived is a life that made a difference. I have continued that philosophy by raising a teacher, a doctor and a police officer. It took me five and a half years, but it was absolutely the right decision and I became a nurse the weekend before I turned 40.

How did you come to focus your practice on infectious disease and immunology?

SG: I began my nursing career working inpatient with pediatric oncology patients. When I moved to the Teenage Clinic I also began working with the Pediatric Infectious Disease physicians.

When was your first trip to Africa and how did you initially get involved with caring for and educating teenagers there about HIV?

SG: My first volunteer stint in Africa was to Kenya in the fall of 2003. I was assigned to Nyumbani Children’s Home. This is an orphanage for more than 100 HIV-positive children. It was then that I realized how little the adolescents knew about HIV, reproductive health and prevention of transmission. Since they were starting to receive antiretroviral (ARV) medications instead of preparing to die, they needed to prepare to live long healthy lives. My Fulbright Scholarship gave me the opportunity to evaluate a curriculum by teaching classes that cover those issues.

You’ve received two extremely impressive honors in recent years – the Fulbright Scholarship and Nelson Mandela Fellowship. How have these affected your practice and life?

SG: First, these awards demonstrate the commitment UW Health makes to nursing and nursing research. In addition, they have allowed me to reach nearly 1,000 African adolescents and more than 70 UW undergraduates who accompany me on my trips. They gave me time to develop relationships that resonate in my life every day. I have learned in my practice to do more with less and to never forget the power of nursing. The foundation of my nursing practice in Swahili is “tuka sawa.” We are all the same.

In addition to your outstanding contributions to the practice of nursing and HIV awareness, you’ve done some other amazing things, such as climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Where do you get your remarkable drive?

SG: I have tried to live my life with no “should haves.” I am so grateful for everyday that I am healthy and loved and able to do what means the most to me. I really want no regrets and to know that I always did my best and took advantage of every opportunity  that came my way, or knowing I worked hard to develop each one.

Your colleagues were sad to see you retire from UW Health in December 2017. Are you truly done nursing?

SG:  I will never be done nursing! I will be coming back to the clinic to work per diem. I will continue my nursing work in Africa for the foreseeable future, bringing UW undergraduates with me twice per year. I just returned from another trip to Tanzania on January 3, bringing the total number of students I’ve taken to Africa to 72 who have helped me with my project, Talking Health Out Loud

What’s been the most rewarding part of your job, or what has a ‘good day’ looked like?

SG: A good day is knowing that I’ve made the unbearable a little more bearable… that I’ve learned something that makes me a better person and a better nurse…that every patient and family that I’ve interacted with knows that when you arrive at UW Health, you will find light, hope and human kindness.

Magnet® Nurse of the Year

To top off a truly remarkable year and nursing practice, Gold, who retired in December 2017, was named Magnet® Nurse of the Year for Exemplary Practice by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Gold said she felt “honored and reminded, again, why University Hospital is the best place to be a nurse.” She also stated that her award was a reflection of all the support she’s gotten over the past 26 years from nursing colleagues, managers and nursing leaders.

Nelson Mandela Fellowship

Gold says receiving the Nelson Mandela Fellowship, which was a direct outgrowth of the work she did related to her Fulbright Scholarship she received in 2007, was an incredible honor that she was “proud and humbled” to receive. The fellowship allowed her to travel to Kenya in March 2017 and continue cultivating her impactful HIV educational program and the collaboration between U.S. and African healthcare professionals.