How long have you been at your job? 2 years? 5 years? Ok maybe you’re in the double digits, say ten to fifteen? These days that may qualify you as a lifer. By that definition, Camille Petty is a lifer several times over, as the head nurse on the children’s psychiatry unit at Bellevue Hospital for 52 years.
During a day of field recordings at Bellevue Hospital, in honor of its 275th anniversary, Camille was interviewed by friend and colleague Florenna Thompson about her journey to this incredible milestone.
After graduation from Bellevue’s Nursing School came the challenge of placement for Camille. Her first choice was to be in the delivery room. “I was meant to work in the delivery room. I was supposed to be an OB nurse. I knew the obstetrics, I could quote from it like you could quote from the bible, line and verse.” But fate would have her elsewhere. She was assigned psychiatric ward, though being a psychiatric nurse was not her first choice.
Camille confronted her supervisor and told him, “I can’t spend my life in psychiatry, I have to be in the delivery room.” Her supervisor challenged her to stay in the child psychiatry unit for a month, and if she didn’t like it he would transfer her to the delivery room. After a few days on the unit and now more than 50 years later Camille surmises it may have been her destiny.
“I loved the children’s unit. Most of our children are African American and Latino, and I am the only African American professional on the staff. I actually feel like I’m there to help and protect these children. Years ago our [psychiatric unit] service kept children there [on the unit] because there was no place else to go. So we really raised some of these children. It’s a special population. I don’t think they’re being taken care of the way it used be because of the third party payment. Patients can’t stay in the hospital a long time, and that’s the saddest part of all. They’re just being rushed through and I have to speak up.”
“That’s part of the reason I’m still there, even though I keep saying I have to retire. I want to sit on my porch at home, but it’s difficult to walk away.”
Her 52-year legacy lives on in the countless children she’s helped over the years. Some of Camille’s children have gone on to graduate from college, become teachers, social workers and get married, and have made a point to remember her service along the way. “Sometimes you don’t know that the little bit you do makes an impact. It’s wonderful when they get back.”