These nurses have put in the sweat, tears and years

May 16, 2022
Three nurses dressed in classic white scrubs and blue capes stand in a lobby, performing a ceremony in honor of Florence Nightingale
Members of the Nurses Honor Guard were among those on hand to recognize all MUSC nurses with 25 years or more of experience. Photos by Sarah Pack

Paris Wiggins, R.N., did that thing we all wish we had the nerve to do. 

It was 1996, and the then-20-something was five years into a rewarding nursing career in Bristol, Connecticut – a career that she knew from her very first day was tailor-made for her – but a rocky relationship had her reevaluating life. She needed a change of scenery. So she got out a map of the United States and placed it on the table.

“I just covered my eyes and said, ‘Wherever I point is where I’m moving,’” she said.

When she opened her eyes, her finger was squarely on Charleston, S.C. – a place she had never been to in her entire life. But she stuck to her guns, quitting a job she dearly loved, and loaded up all of her stuff into a car and made the bold move down South. 

More than 25 years, several kids and one happy marriage later, she’s still here, having spent the bulk of her professional career at the Medical University of South Carolina. Today she’s a nurse in MUSC Health’s cardiothoracic intensive care unit (CTICU). 

“I have always loved what I do,” she said. “I’m best at connecting with my patients at the bedside, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

A series of three pictures, one of MUSC First Lady Kath Cole in a blue dress as she applauds, one is a detail shot of certificates given to the nurses and the last is a display of a white rose, bible and plaque in honor of Florence Nightingale 
Kathy Cole, who was a nurse herself, was on hand to celebrate MUSC nurses with more than 25 years experience.

Along with several dozen nurses, Wiggins was celebrated for her many contributions to MUSC Health for more than 25 years. As a part of Nurses Week – a weeklong annual celebration at hospitals across the country during the second week in May – the teaching hospital held a reception to honor women like Wiggins, who have put in the sweat, tears and years to the noble profession of nursing.

“You are the heart and soul of the hospital,” said MUSC College of Nursing Dean Linda Weglicki, Ph.D., R.N., as she spoke to the group gathered in the Drug Discovery Building. “We thank you. We celebrate you. For your service and for making such a positive and impactful difference in what we do.”

MUSC first lady Kathy Cole, a former nurse herself, added: “I applaud your dedication to MUSC. I encourage you to share your stories with the next generation of nurses. Share your stories of commitment, dedication, heartbreak, triumph. Because it’s these stories that light the way for those that come after you.”

Following the remarks by Weglicki, Cole and MUSC Health-Charleston chief nursing officer Patti Hart, DNP, R.N., members of the Nurses Honor Guard of South Carolina, consisting of four former and current nurses decked out in traditional nursing garb –white uniform, cap and cape – performed a celebration of the life of Florence Nightingale, a woman widely credited as the founder of modern nursing.

Afterward, the room of nurses migrated to the other side of the lobby where they enjoyed food and cake, while laughing and swapping war stories. 

It was Wiggins who, with a slight catch in her voice, recalled one patient that came back three years after receiving a heart transplant at MUSC Health. She said he sought her out during one of her shifts just to say thank you. He told her that he’d never forget waking up from surgery and the first thing he saw was her smiling face – how she told him it was going to be OK. And it was her confidence that got him to believe, to fight. 

“Things like that are just so rare,” she said. “As nurses, a lot of times we’re taking care of people one second and the next, they’re gone – to another unit, another floor, home. So to have somebody come back and say, ‘Thank you, you made a real difference,’ I can’t tell you how much that means.”