Museum Volunteer Shares Memories of Nursing Career

By Lauren Bigge
NMHM Public Affairs Coordinator

Roseann Flyte, a former neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse, still has a necklace her roommate in a hospital pediatric unit gave her when she was six years old as she was recovering from a broken arm. That childhood experience inspired her life-long career as a nurse and educator, and her background informs her ongoing activities as a volunteer at the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM). NMHM, a Department of Defense museum and an element of the Defense Health Agency, is spotlighting nurses in and out of the armed forces during National Nurses Week 2017, May 6-12.

"I always liked volunteering; I wanted to be a nurse," she said, first volunteering in a nursing home when she was a middle-school student.

Flyte learned about the NICU specialty in nursing school and was immediately hooked. After graduating from the Allentown Hospital School of Nursing, she spent 15 years working in the Lehigh Valley Hospital NICU in Allentown, Pa. Nurses worked in 12-hour shifts, forming close bonds with the parents and becoming attached to their tiny patients. The bonds lasted for months or even years, past even when nurses are responsible for post-hospital home care. Flyte feels that her nursing work was fulfilling, in both the hospital and home settings.

"The NICU was my passion," she said. "In the NICU, you always spend time teaching the mothers how to take care of their children. I enjoyed getting to meet the families, and of course taking care of the children. It was really rewarding to be with them."

Flyte went on to teach at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pa., where she'd earned her B.S.N., and at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa. She still loved nursing, but also wanted to share what she had learned over the years.

She continues to both teach and learn by volunteering at NMHM. Her docent experiences at the museum bring back fond memories of nursing, especially when educating young children about the human body. Flyte meets military service members and veterans and their families when she is guiding gallery tours; they share with her their experiences serving in the military.

"I've heard stories from older generations visiting here," she said. "They're passing knowledge on to me about their experiences, too. We can teach each other."

Another museum docent, Carolyn Whittenburg, was drawn to volunteering at NMHM nearly twenty years ago due to her life's work as a nurse. Whittenburg received a nursing degree from the College of Wooster and Columbia University, and a master's degree in nursing from Case Western Reserve University. She spent many years working in public health at various institutions. One of her fondest memories was working at the Cleveland Clinic, particularly with Dr. Willem Kolff, the father of artificial organs.

Join NMHM on Sat., May 6 at 1:00 p.m. for a special, docent-led tour to honor military nurses from the Civil War to the war in Iraq as we highlight contributions of military nurses from all of the service branches. Reservations are recommended but not required; call (301) 319-3303 or email for more information.


Caption: Roseann Flyte (left), a volunteer at the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM), talks about the proper materials for a first-aid kit during the NMHM's "Scout Day" on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, in Silver Spring, Maryland.

(National Museum of Health and Medicine photo by Matthew Breitbart / Released)