Top Nurse

Leah LeMoineApril 2016
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There’s a long and storied tradition of doctor worship in this country. Look at TV shows like E.R., Grey’s Anatomy and The Doctors. Look at “rock star” physicians, like the Valley’s own neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Spetzler. Look at this very issue you’re holding, with 505 doctors held up as the best of the best in their respective fields. There’s no denying it – we tend to venerate those whose hands we entrust with our lives.

“Doctors are thought of that way,” says Holly Gunther, R.N. “Why not nurses? You’ve got the Top Docs, you’ve got the docs [in the Medical Directory]. Where are the nurses?”

It’s a refrain we’re accustomed to hearing, and a legitimate one. Why not nurses? Gunther, a prior-authorization nurse who conducts home calls for a Valley healthcare entity she doesn’t want to name, has been campaigning for nurse appreciation since she began nursing school in the early 2000s. A Chicago native who spent the bulk of her professional life as a personal trainer, she gravitated toward healthcare after firsthand experience caring for her father after he suffered a massive heart attack at age 50. 

“From the very beginning, she was talking about the fact that patients didn’t have information and people weren’t able to take the time to really inform them,” says Wendy Vittori, a Buckeye management consultant who was a personal training client of Gunther’s. “She became very passionate about doing that as much as she could within the constraints of being an on-duty nurse.”

After working in hospitals and private practices – and becoming a caretaker, with her husband and three children, for her father and mother, who has Parkinson’s disease – she started her own consultation company and blog,

“I just couldn’t believe people not knowing how to ask questions… Whatever the doc says is what it is. I’m not negating that, but you should be able to ask,” she says. “The first one that sparked it is one of the physicians came into the room and said, ‘Ok, we’re going to give you a blood thinner,’ and then he left. I said [to my dad], ‘Do you have any idea what the doctor just said?’ and he said, ‘Nope.’ So then I thought, ‘How do I get the word out?’”

Inspiration came from an unlikely source: the movie Julie & Julia, based on the memoir of the same name in which Julie Powell blogs about cooking every recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. “I thought, ‘Ooh, I could write a blog [and] help people understand medical jargon.’ I just loved that she blogged. I could write a blog,” Gunther says. “It’s nothing regarding HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act, regarding patient privacy and security of health information]. I could just say, ‘This is what a blood thinner is, this is what the doctor means when he says you were at baseline…’” 

The name inspiration? “Holly” has long been a nickname of Gunther’s (she declines sharing her first name to keep her advocacy separate from her day job doing house calls) and “because I thought every patient’s a star.” Hollywood is a fitting moniker for Gunther’s seemingly dogged self-promotion, but further chats with her and those who work with her reveal she’s not the egomaniac one would assume a self-styled “Hollywood RN” to be. Rather, she appears to be using her personal platform as a launchpad for patient advocacy and nursing initiatives, like the nurse of the year award she’s currently lobbying for with local nursing organizations (see sidebar). She is genuinely interested in helping people.

“She’s brought me some stories I never really would’ve thought about on my own,” says 3TV News producer Jay Crandall, who has worked with Gunther on pieces for TV and “I think her motives are to really make information known.” 

“She’s a good diplomat for nurses, which you can’t say that about every nurse,” says Dr. David Carfagno, a seven-time PHOENIX magazine Top Doc who worked with Gunther at what was then Scottsdale Healthcare. He enlists her volunteer service for events he hosts as medical director of Ironman Arizona and the Arizona Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon. “She’s a little bit of an entrepreneur, which you need. I think she’ll do really well and carve out her niche.”

Her longtime friend Sara Schumann, who works as a pediatric GI nurse in Mesa, is confident Gunther will succeed in establishing the nursing award. “I think it’s pretty easy for her to accomplish, more than anybody else I know,” Schumann says. “It would be great for the profession, and it would give the spotlight to nurses, because I don’t think they get that much.” 

Gunther hopes her efforts “raise awareness” of the tireless work of nurses. “I don’t think anybody [in the nursing field] is really dissatisfied… It has nothing to do with their employers, it’s just general public appreciation of being a nurse. Because doctors do [have it]. Nurses have to fight for it.”

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