A lifetime of caring


By Chris Berendt - [email protected]



Doris Steedly and her daughter Debra McMillan have dedicated over 80 years to caring for patients at Sampson Regional Medical Center.


Doris Steedly and daughter Debra McMillan at Sampson Regional Medical Center not long before Steedly’s retirement at the end of 1999.


Doris Steedly, circa 1968


Debra McMillan, circa 1977


Doris Steedly and daughter Debra McMillan have walked the floors of Sampson Regional Medical Center for a combined eight decades, assisting patients and their families in preparing for surgery, doctors during the operations themselves and in the post-surgical recovery and recuperation process.

The women talked about the years they have invested in the medical field and said it is a profession steeped in family tradition (see related stories in today’s Insight section). Steedly retired in 1999 after 42 years at Sampson Regional. McMillan will mark 39 years at the hospital in May. The majority of those 81 years have been spent in the operating room.

“I just loved working with people, helping people,” Steedly said.

Before she was married to husband Charles, Steedly worked for a bakery and at a dime store but always had it in the back of her mind that she would be a nurse.

“The first chance I got, I took it,” Steedly said. “My father died when I was 10 years old and my mother was not able to send me to nursing school. I had planned to do it, but somebody had to look after my mother and my younger brother (Marshall). He was not but 4 years old when my father passed away.”

Steedly started working as a nursing assistant before taking a year off to complete the LPN program at then-Sampson Technical College. Born and raised in Sampson County, she married husband Charles and they had their only child, Debra.

Growing up, Debra wanted to be a school teacher. However, years spent around her mother, and seeing the love she had for her work and the constant study she put in to improve in her craft, ultimately swayed her toward nursing. The two even worked together for a time before Steedly put on her scrubs for the last time at the end of 1999 at the age of 65.

“The love for it came from being around her and I have three cousins that were nurses, two uncles that were registered nurses and an aunt who was as well,” said McMillan. “I just like dealing with people.”

“It’s been a family thing,” said Steedly.

McMillan graduated from Clinton High School in 1974, then going on to the Watts School of Nursing in Durham, where should would receive a hands-on learning experience. She made frequent trips back to see her parents on weekends while going to school in Durham, and there was little doubt she would return home.

After graduating from Watts in May 1977, she was at Sampson Regional days later.

“That is only place I applied to go to school, and this is the only place I applied to work,” McMillan said.

As the mother-daughter duo speak, it is evident that the love for people and seeing they receive the treatment they need, is what has driven the women through the years.

“People know and appreciate how much you do for them,” Steedly said. “It’s amazing how you get so caught up with people.”

“There are times when you’re so tired and then you see these people come in and the adrenaline keeps you going and you forget how tired you were,” added McMillan, who has worked on the floor, in the intensive care unit for nearly a decade and in a step-down unit for about six years in addition to her OR duties.

One patient complimented McMillan just recently on her bedside manner. She said she is thankful that people notice, but at the same time that is part of the job.

“It really made me feel good. I know the patient is anxious about having surgery and you do anything you can to help allay their anxiety, because a lot of them are really, really anxious,” said McMillan.

Steedly said it is crucial for anyone in the medical profession to have a feeling for their patients, able to put themselves in the patient’s position so they can provide what is needed — through words or actions — to alleviate fears and offer comfort, all with respect for the patient’s personality and privacy.

“It’s more for them than it is for you,” Steedly said. “It’s all about the patient.”

“Treat them as you would want to be treated or how you would want your family members treated,” McMillan added.

She said Sampson Regional has made strides over the years to improve that patient service. During longer surgeries, or ones that extend for more time than initially believed, nurses offer updates to waiting family members as much as they possibly can to assure them.

When Steedly began at Sampson Regional, there were just two surgeons. The hospital has grown immensely, she attested.

Along with the plethora of improvements and expansions along the medical mile of Beaman Street, more surgeons have been added to the hospital campus’ roster over the years. Those two surgeons are now three general surgeons, a urologist, two orthopaedic surgeons and three OB-GYNs, with others rotating on weekends.

There are also more nurses. While they work regular shifts from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., there are always three nurses who are on-call at any given time. In their job, they must not only be capable of their own duties, but privy to what the surgeon needs. None of those surgeons do exactly the same thing, but for the nurses it is learning to adapt to a certain situation to best assist and accommodate the surgeon to ensure optimum care for patients, the women said.

“You have to be able to adapt,” said Steedly. “You have to know what each surgeon uses and when he wants it.”

Steedly and McMillan worked together for a number of years before Steedly retired.

“She got accused at times for taking up for me, but actually she was harder on me than anyone else was,” McMillan recalled. “If I said I couldn’t do something, she would say ‘I know doggone well you can, you’re not a quitter.’”

“I always told her she could do anything she wanted to do,” said Steedly, a glowing mother and grandmother. “She tried and she did.”

Debra and husband Randy have two children, Aaron McMillan, a CPA at Rouse & Peterson in Clinton, and Randi Kaye McMillan Honeycutt, a first-grade teacher at Roseboro Elementary. McMillan said she and her husband, a cost analyst at Smithfield Foods, have talked about retiring together, but it may still be several years away.

“We would love to be like mom and dad were,” she stated. “They retired together and had some good years to be with each together. We’ve worked our whole lives. Ever since we were married, we’ve been working.”

For now, however, she will continue to walk the halls of Sampson Regional and tout the services of the hospital where she and her mother have dedicated their lives.

“We’re trying to get the word out in the community to come to us, to give us a chance,” McMillan said.

Even though there is a belief that a larger facility in Raleigh, Chapel Hill or Wilmington can better treat patients, Sampson Regional is equipped with talented staff and growing facilities in its own right.

“We’ve got good staff and good doctors,” said McMillan, noting a fairly new partnership with Campbell University, through which young doctors are learning at Sampson Regional in hopes they will do their residency in Clinton and ultimately settle down in this community.

“It’s really nice to meet them and have a part in their growing up and their experience,” said McMillan.

Steedly said she has seen a great deal of growth over the years, and hopes the hospital will continue to flourish. At its heart are talented and dedicated people, she attested.

“As a rule, I think most people who come here find it very efficient and the help very congenial and gracious,” said Steedly. “I think we’re very fortunate to have this hospital.”

Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.

By Chris Berendt

[email protected]

Doris Steedly and her daughter Debra McMillan have dedicated over 80 years to caring for patients at Sampson Regional Medical Center.
http://clintonnc.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/web1_nurses1.jpgDoris Steedly and her daughter Debra McMillan have dedicated over 80 years to caring for patients at Sampson Regional Medical Center.

Doris Steedly and daughter Debra McMillan at Sampson Regional Medical Center not long before Steedly’s retirement at the end of 1999.
http://clintonnc.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/web1_nurses-2.jpgDoris Steedly and daughter Debra McMillan at Sampson Regional Medical Center not long before Steedly’s retirement at the end of 1999.

Doris Steedly, circa 1968
http://clintonnc.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/web1_nurses3.jpgDoris Steedly, circa 1968

Debra McMillan, circa 1977
http://clintonnc.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/web1_nurses4.jpgDebra McMillan, circa 1977

Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.

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