Friend of the College: Deanne Francis

Helping a new mother with her preterm twins. Photo courtesy of Francis.

By Brooklyn Murray

While we often spotlight BYU nursing program graduates or students, there are many others who have made an impact on the program or in our community that did not graduate from BYU. Today’s spotlight is one such person: Deanne Francis. 

Deanne grew up in Salt Lake City the daughter of an obstetrician. She retired from working at the Utah Valley Hospital (formerly Utah Valley Regional Medical Center) in January of this year after nearly 60 years of work. Since 1963 she had been working in the NICU or as a lactation specialist part time. She took a few years off while her husband presided over the Spain, Las Palmas mission, and to teach a clinical program at BYU.

Deanne was drawn to nursing from a young age, but at first had to go against her father’s wishes with her desires. She says that as a physician he believed, “nurses work too hard and get paid too little.” Though she admits he may have been right, there were other experiences she had that persuaded her to pursue nursing regardless. While working at the LDS Hospital as a teen, Deanne was assigned to operate the elevators, including the old style that used a handle to move between floors. One day, an obviously pregnant woman was rushed in from a car accident and needed to be taken to the delivery unit on the sixth floor. After the third floor, the woman informed Deanne that she was having the baby right then. When Deanne let go of the handle to assist, the elevator stopped. The woman patted her on the back and said, “Honey you don’t need to worry about anything, all you need to do is catch!” Soon enough, that’s exactly what Deanne did. After a moment, the woman said, “Oh I think there’s another one” and then came the twin. Luckily, the four of them were soon to the sixth floor and all was well. Deanne says, “After that I was hooked!”

After graduation she immediately began working in what was then called the preemie nursery, and is now generally known as the NICU. That department has advanced tremendously since Deanne started working. She explains, “in those days, most of [the babies] died.” There were no monitors, babies were not given breast milk, and parents had to watch their children through windows while the medical staff did their best. “It was really not terribly humane” Deanne recalls thinking. Over the years, however, equipment and procedures have improved the conditions for the babies and their families. She believes the most influential advancement for the improvement of the department was High Frequency Ventilation. It quite literally was, “life changing.” Another important change was having teams of nurses attend to complicated deliveries, rather than a rush to call the team in an emergency. That immediate care surely helped nurses be able to save lives more quickly and more effectively.

For a year or so, Deanne spent time teaching a clinical for BYU nursing students. From this experience she says one of her favorite parts was spending time with the students. She loved their insights, being able to refresh her skills herself, and learning from the BYU faculty. The appreciation she had for the way they taught nursing grew as she came to know them.   

Though technically retired from working in the NICU for about 15 years, in this new retirement from all hospital work there are still many projects to continue. Deanne has been administering Covid-19 vaccines for the Utah County Health Department. She is also on a team from Intermountain Healthcare that is working on opening a new maternity hospital in Tanzania. She is virtually teaching their nurses and training them for their work. Rather than fully retiring, she says more accurately, “I have retired from being paid.” Deanne really believes, “a lot of things can be accomplished if you don’t have to be paid for everything you do.” Satisfaction in life can come from volunteering and from what you choose to do outside of your job. Other sources of that satisfaction have come by opening a mother’s milk bank in Salt Lake and a milk depot in Provo, volunteering on the US Navy ship Comfort that stopped in several countries to offer humanitarian aid, teaching a Neonatal Resuscitation Program in Mexico, and serving in the Church missionary department as the head of the mission nurse department. She says, “those are the kind of things that I just really enjoyed doing that were not involved in my regular job.”

When asked if she has any advice for current or potential nursing students, even at 80 years old Deanne says, “Make sure your priorities are straight.” There are a lot of good reasons to be a nurse, and some that aren’t so good. If this isn’t the career path for you that is okay! But there is no reason to stay if you aren’t there for the right reasons. Another nice thing about nursing is how diverse the field is. There are so many options from pediatrics to psychiatry to surgery, and everywhere in between. Find what works for you, your desires, and your time frames. Deanne also encourages adopting her philosophy about learning to serve without compensation. Focusing on serving in the community and making a difference can be just as rewarding and full of accomplishments as working, something that Deanne has epitomized over the course of her career and her life.

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