When Cindy Miller graduated from nursing school in May of 1975, she never would have imagined where her career would take her. Now, after 45 years at Iredell Memorial Hospital, she’s hanging up her scrubs and retiring from a work life she has loved.
Miller has always wanted to be a nurse. As a child she operated on her dolls, and in high school her decision to pursue a career in nursing never wavered.
“I love taking care of people and problems,” she said. “From the time I was old enough to really know, I said ‘I’m going to be a nurse.’”
Miller has served as Iredell’s Director of Central Sterile Supply (CSR) and Endoscopy since January 2017, but it’s not the only role she’s held with the county’s only nonprofit health system.
When she first began her career at Iredell in December 1975, she was hired to work as a nurse on the surgical floor, providing nursing care to patients recovering from surgical procedures. But when she arrived on the job, she was reassigned to a geriatric unit. In March of 1976 she requested to be transferred to the surgical floor she had originally been hired to work on, but leadership staff had a different idea.
“They came to me and asked if I would consider working as a nurse in the operating room, but I wasn’t so sure about that,” she said. “They suggested I try it for three months, and if I didn’t like it, I could transfer to the surgical floor.”
She decided it was worth trying, and looking back, she’s glad she did.
“I didn’t like it – I fell in love with it,” she said.
Not long after accepting that position, Miller was asked to be the charge nurse overseeing some specialty surgical services like ENT and orthopedics. Soon after she was also put in charge of scheduling and asked to help with quality improvement projects and goals. And in January 1980, she became what was then known as the Assistant Operating Room Supervisor, a position later renamed the Surgical Services Assistant Supervisor. During that time the hospital’s operating rooms were located in what is now the Cardiac Catheterization Lab. In 1986, Miller helped the hospital in the design of its new operating rooms and same day surgery unit on the facility’s ground floor.
“Our surgical patients used to have to sit in recliners before and after surgery – there was only one stretcher in case someone needed it. Mr. Arnold Nunnery, our former CEO, had a vision to do a same day surgery unit and he really let me help and design the workflow,” she said.
As the years went on, Miller continued to be recognized as a leader in the organization. In January 1995 she became the Acting Surgical Services Supervisor, and that March was formally named to the position.
In that role, Miller was initially responsible for Iredell Memorial’s operating room, but her responsibilities soon included overseeing Outpatient Surgery, Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU), Lithotripsy, and Central Sterile Supply (also known as Sterile Processing), and her title changed to Director of Surgical Services. In the early 2000s, Endoscopy was also added to that list.
Miller has always enjoyed taking on special projects. It was that character trait that led her to assist with the aforementioned 1986 addition, and to later be an integral part of other renovations and improvements, including the 2006/2007 addition of a modernized sterile processing department closer to the hospital’s operating rooms.
“I love a project, especially researching the latest technology,” she said. “When we opened our new Sterile Processing Department no one around us had the equipment and technology we were able to have.”
In 2008, Miller also helped the hospital plan two new integrated operating rooms, complete with video, specialty lights, the ability to view imaging reports, and much more. Many years later she was part of the team that helped bring the daVinci XI robotic surgical system to the hospital as well.
And, she’s willingly taken on many other projects throughout the hospital whenever she can.
“I love to be part of the accreditation process and help others prepare,” she said, referring to regularly occurring surveys hospitals undergo that assess performance levels and show areas of opportunity for improvement.
For several years, Miller has helped lead the committee that plans the hospital’s Nursing Institute golf tournament fundraiser, which raises money to help pay for ongoing education for nursing. She’s also assisted the hospital with its current endoscopy renovation project.
“I’m always willing to help,” she said.
In 2015, Miller celebrated 40 years working for Iredell, and knew the time to retire was in the foreseeable future. Together, she and the Becky Quate, Vice President of Nursing & Patient Care Services, put together a transition plan that would continue Miller’s legacy of innovation at the hospital and allow her to retire without worrying about the staff, providers and patients she would be leaving behind. It was at that time that her role purposefully shifted to take on a few less responsibilities, and the role of Director of CSR and Endoscopy was created. The operating room, same day surgery center, and PACU then became the responsibilities of others.
While she did not originally plan to still be working five years after that transition plan was put into place, she doesn’t regret it. In fact, she considered retiring just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but didn’t feel right about leaving at a time when healthcare was being tested to its limits.
“There was so much going on, and I felt like I had the expertise to help, so I didn’t feel like it was the right time to bail. I felt I needed to stay for a little while and help,” she said.
Reflecting on her experiences throughout her time at Iredell, Miller is grateful for her ability to stay calm and lead by example, especially on hard days.
“You never quit. You just move forward. In the OR, I’ve had hard days. I’ve always felt like I was there to hold a patient’s hand and comfort them, let them know I loved them and that we’d take care of them, no matter what. I felt like that was important for me to be there with them and take care of them,” she said.
When she thinks about why she stayed at Iredell for nearly her entire career, her thoughts turn to the people she’s worked with.
“I would not have stayed in the organization if it didn’t have the people with the heart they have. The people here are smart and fun, and we’re friends,” she said. “There is nothing like that anywhere else. We support each other. Over the years I’ve always felt the love. Others always stepped up to help. I’ve always felt it.”
Miller has made many friends along the way, including Iredell Health System’s current President & CEO John Green. The two have worked together for 20 years, and both were emotional as Green presented Miller with a years of service award this week.
“Cindy has been a strong leader and advocate for Iredell Health System,” Green said. “She has the unwavering support of the physicians and all of our staff. Her never-ending focus on quality and safety have been a true game changer for the care received in the surgery department and for the community. While her planning has prepared us to continue with this success for years to come, she will be dearly missed.”
As she now looks forward to her retirement – starting with a well-deserved staycation, plans to indulge in her love of reading, and a goal to become a master gardener – Miller knows her childhood dream of being a nurse and living a life where she helps others has come true.
“I really do feel like everywhere I’ve been in the organization, God put me where I’m supposed to be. He’s guided my footsteps and now it’s time for me to retire and I feel at peace about that, I’m happy about that,” she said. “I’m glad that we have such wonderful people that are coming up, taking my place. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. I’m blessed to have been here and do all I have done.”
Photo: Cindy in 1997.