Twin nurses reflect on decades at Ohio Valley Medical Center

WHEELING — The sound of ambulance sirens heading towards the Ohio Valley Medical Center always drew twins Jo Ellen Teufel and Judy Nesbitt out of their childhood Center Wheeling home to see what was happening.

Those moments of childhood curiosity surrounding the healthcare facility inspired two nursing careers — both of which began at the Ohio Valley General Hospital School of Nursing — that have lasted for over 40 years and are still ongoing.

The Ohio Valley General Hospital School of Nursing was the first nursing school in the state. The program’s prestige influenced the twins’ decision of where they would attend nursing school after graduating from Wheeling Central High School in 1974.

“We were always interested in the medical field, and the OVMC nursing school was a three-year program and a very good school so we decided to go there,” explained Teufel. “We also got scholarship money which made the decision easier.”

“The OVMC School of Nursing was known throughout the country,” added Nesbitt. “They put out good nurses because you got a lot of clinical experience.”

Nesbitt cited clinical experience, or time spent working with patients, as the most important aspect of her nursing education. Working with many patients at the start of her career at OVMC’s nursing school made Nesbitt realize she had chosen the right career path.

“On our first day in the nursing school, they took us right out on the hospital floor and put us in clinical situations,” recalled Nesbitt. “The program included classroom learning as well, but much of our schooling was clinical work and doing shifts at the hospital, which was my favorite part.”

These days, Nesbitt’s job does not involve as much excitement as the Assistant Director of Nursing at Peterson Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center.

However, the opportunity to mentor future nurses has kept her love for the profession strong. Teufel, who now works as a vascular access nurse at WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital, also finds mentoring younger nurses a highlight of the job.

“Looking at a career like mine or my sister’s, we’ve got a lot of experience,” said Nesbitt. “We’re able to help the younger nurses develop their careers. I like doing the teaching part of the profession and seeing young nurses grow confident in themselves.”

The twins have seen this growth of a young nurse occur three times within their own family, as their love for the profession has inspired family members to enter nursing.

The twins’ cousin Kelly Schmidt, whom Nesbitt noted is “like a sister to them,” graduated from the Ohio Valley General Hospital School of Nursing in 1988, the last class of the program. Schmidt lived with the twins while in nursing school.

Schmidt’s daughter Haley Schmidt was also inspired by her mother and twin cousins to earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Cleveland State University in 2015.

The twins’ most recent mentee is Teufel’s son, Billy Teufel, who graduated from West Liberty University’s nursing program in 2019. Before OVMC shut down, all three worked at the facility together.

“Since OVMC was smaller we would see each other all the time,” recalled Teufel. “It was nice to see him start and slowly develop into his nursing career.”

Mother and son both work at WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital now, but see each other less often due to the facility’s larger size.

In the same way the twins discovered their love for nursing through the excitement of clinical work, Billy Teufel explained that he developed a passion for the career through the lively environment of the Intensive Care Unit at Wheeling Hospital. He added that he hopes to last as long in the healthcare profession as his mother and aunt.

“What I love about nursing is that I never know what I’m going to get when I come into work,” said Billy Teufel. “It could be three in the morning and suddenly it’s the busiest the shift has been. That switch from having a lot of downtime to craziness can make the time fly.”

A possible final protege for the twins is Billy Teufel’s 2-year-old daughter Briella Teufel. While a career in nursing is still a way down the line for her, Billy noted one of her favorite toys is a children’s stethoscope.

“She’s [Briella] got a little stethoscope that she loves playing with so it’s always a possibility,” noted Billy Teufel.

Though they have mentored and inspired many nurses, the twins still have had to adjust and adapt to the profession. For them, the two biggest changes in nursing during their lifetime have been the decreasing pool of nurses and the decreasing loyalty of nurses to facilities.

The twins recalled that their Ohio Valley General Hospital School of Nursing graduating class had at least 100 students. In comparison, they noted most nursing programs in the area nowadays graduate much fewer students.

“Back then, it was lucky if you got a job straight out of nursing school,” explained Teufel. “Now if you go to nursing school, you’re guaranteed a job because of the nurse shortage.”

The increase in travel nurses in the profession is another big change in the field the twins noted. They believe the increase in temporary hospital nurses has led to less loyalty among nurses to facilities.

“You’re not going to find any nurse to stay at any hospital for a long time in this day and age because these travel nurses do 13 to 16-week assignments then move somewhere else,” said Nesbitt. “When I started at Peterson, I told everybody I would retire there, and I still say that today. Nurses nowadays don’t look at it that way, they’re always moving from place to place.”

The rise of travel nurses in the profession contrasts with the twins’ careers, as both worked at OVMC after they graduated from nursing school until the facility shut down in 2019.

“We graduated from the same place, and you just get comfortable in your surroundings,” said Teufel. “We had built relationships with our colleagues and loved our work at OVMC.”

With the demolition of OVMC beginning in January of this year – a new WVU Medicine regional cancer center will be built in its place – the destruction of the buildings they once learned and worked in is a sad sight for the twins. When the two were in nursing school, new buildings were still being erected at the facility.

“We’ve basically lived through the whole lifecycle of OVMC,” remarked Nesbitt.

For them, the most heartbreaking part of the demolition process has been seeing the building of their former nursing school torn down.

“It’s sad seeing it go, that was where we started our careers,” said Teufel. “I go down to OVMC every once and a while and see what’s happening with the buildings.

With careers long enough to last through the heyday, shut down and demolition of a medical facility, the question of when they will hang up their stethoscopes is on the twins’ minds.

Nesbitt explained that the two had discussed retiring in May of this year, but as the month approached, they found they had no desire to retire yet.

“I always say I never mind coming to work,” said Teufel. “I love my job, I love what I do and I love taking care of the patients.”

Nesbitt added that playing a part in the healing process was another reason she has stuck with the profession.

“At Peterson and even when I worked in the ICU at OVMC, you see people who are so very sick,” said Nesbitt. “Then later on you see them again and they are recovered and ready to go home. That’s very rewarding to me.”

Some pieces of OVMC’s history will be unveiled Saturday, when a pair of time capsules unearthed from the former hospital’s campus buildings will be opened during a ceremony at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in downtown Wheeling. That ceremony begins at 1 p.m.


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