Mallori Kunkel was born into nursing. No, seriously.
“I started UCA in January 1989 and graduated May 14, 1994,” said Lori Reynolds, BSN, Mallori’s mother. “I did five and half years because my sophomore year of nursing school, I found out I was pregnant with this one.
“I made it through midterms, had Mallori the next week, stayed out one week and went back the following week. Literally, she was born when I was in nursing school.”
Both mother and daughter enjoy the story, seated next to one another on a settee in the volunteers’ room at Conway Regional Medical Center. More than 25 years of professional life separate the RNs and the physical similarities aren’t particularly striking, but their paths to the oncology ward where both have made their mark are nearly identical.
“I grew up, actually, on the floor where my mom worked,” said Mallori, 25. “I grew up on the floor that I work on now. My mom was an inpatient cancer nurse which is what I do.”
Neither initially wanted to be a nurse, although both showed remarkable talent for it at a young age. Both feel most connected in a specialty most of us never want to experience, even calling the opportunity to help a patient peacefully and comfortably transition the ultimate privilege. And both do so under the proud gaze of the family matriarch whose example set the tone for their life’s work.
“Mother has actually been a caregiver her whole life. She cared for her mother-in-law and we cared for grandpa, an uncle, we cared for multiple family members,” said Lori, 49. “She was a school guidance counselor for her profession but she mentored many individuals including myself and we always had people at our house that we were taking care of. Mother was always bringing home…”
“Strays,” finished Linda Hammontree, 73, seated nearby. “I used to literally bring kids who were from abused homes and I would get permission and they’d come home with me and spend the weekend.”
Linda’s nurturing of those in need made an impression on Lori, who soon showed a caregiver’s heart of her own. Mallori also got to witness the family tradition while growing up, most recently as her mother helped Linda through cancer in 2000 and the illness and death of Lori’s father two years ago. His passing brought the three closer together, literally, when Linda started volunteering at the hospital a few hours a week.
All three women regard each other as equals on hospital time and despite being from different eras and attending different nursing schools, Lori and Mallori said their nurses’ training complements each other.
“When I started, nursing was bad about eating our young,” Lori said. “When I graduated, if you were working with a senior nurse, you did not question her authority. What she said you did it. They weren’t ugly people, but it was very dictator-type. What I see now, it’s totally not like that. When Mallori graduated nursing school and became a nurse, she became my peer.
“I did feel confident speaking up, even straight out of nursing school,” said Mallori who graduated in December. “One of the things that led me to the program at Baptist was they have so many clinical hours. You get so much hands-on in that environment and you get used to it quickly.”
Aside from personal family stories – “Mallori was not a good baby,” offered Linda. “Her brother asked if we could take her back,” quipped Lori. – the only thing the three indulge in is pride over each other’s accomplishments. When processing check-out paperwork recently, a patient’s family member started to describe to Lori the unbelievable kindness shown by their loved one’s nurse.
“I said, ‘Can I ask what room you were in?’ and they told me and I said, ‘That’s my daughter,’” Lori said as Linda beamed. “That was a defining moment. Watching your kids succeed is so much better than your own success.”