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The go-to guy: Texas Capitol nurse spends decades caring for legislators

Monday January 14, 2013
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As Nurse.com (NurseWeek) celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, we are looking back at some of the nurses who were featured in the earliest issues of our regional magazines. Tim Flynn, RN, FNP, of Austin, Texas, was featured in NurseWeek magazineís February 1994 issue, five months after he became the Texas Capitol Buildingís first full-time nurse (after working at the Capitol for a year on a part-time basis). Flynn handles more than 4,000 patient visits per year, including out-of-town legislators, Capitol staff and visitors. Here, he gives a glimpse into the evolution of his job over the past two decades.


Tim Flynn, RN
How have your job duties changed in the past 20 years?

Itís like night and day. When I started, I was like a school nurse for the Texas legislature. I could provide things like first aid and blood pressure checks. I worked closely with the physicians and learned a lot by reading their notes and looking over their shoulders. But the more I learned, the more I became frustrated with my inability to address patientsí issues. So I enrolled in a nurse practitioner program and graduated in 2002. My practice grew because I could diagnose and treat patients. There is a saying that there is power in the pad, and Iíve seen that reality. When you can write prescriptions, people start coming to see you. I see roughly twice as many patients now as I did 20 years ago.

What types of illnesses do you treat?

I see a lot of upper respiratory problems such as bronchitis, colds and allergies, but I also see patients with things like urinary tract infections, sprains and strains, and stress-induced illnesses like gastroesophageal reflux disease, hypertension and sleep disorders. In many cases, people come in with one problem and then we realize there are other problems that need to be addressed.

What have been the most severe cases you treated over the years?

In 1999, a parking guard was found slumped over his desk and was suffering from a gastrointestinal bleed. While the paramedics were en route, I treated him for shock. He survived. Also, about 20 years ago, a man was working on the air conditioning system when his finger got caught and almost tore off. I put a bandage on it and had him taken to the emergency room, where they were able to reattach the finger. I was an EMT before I became an RN, so I remain clearheaded.

What trends are you seeing among the patients?

I wish I could say people are getting healthier, but if you look at the obesity epidemic, that would not be true. I approach my patients in a nonjudgmental way to help them consider lifestyle changes to address weight issues, hypertension and diabetes. When they experience success with small changes, it encourages them to make more changes.

What is the most difficult part of your job?

Because I treat a very well-educated and opinionated population, they usually come to my office with a diagnosis and a treatment plan. It often takes a bit of work to convince them that they donít have pneumonia, just a common cold. One time I was treating a newly elected state representative for a cold and he told me that he wanted a vitamin B12 shot and a steroid shot. I explained that if he had a cold, steroids would depress his immune system and make him feel more sick in the long run. I am very fortunate that I do not have to rush people in and out in 15 minutes. I have time for patient education.

Why have you stayed in the position for 20 years?

It is very much like being a doctor in a small town where you know everyoneís histories and families. I love that. Iíve developed good relationships with people over the years. I also love the autonomy, and autonomy is its own reward.

How has your work influenced your view of politics?

As you can imagine, I have to be politically neutral, and I firmly believe all of our elected officials are doing their best. For me though, politics is like watching professional wrestling — itís a lot of show and bluster. When politicians first get elected they come to the Capitol thinking they can make a significant change, but then they realize that there are a lot of hurdles they have to clear before they can reach a position of power.

Years ago, you qualified for Mensa. How did this lead to nursing?

Qualifying for Mensa was like inheriting a great deal of money. Intelligence is a God-given gift, and I didnít do anything to earn it. The test helped me understand the extent of my intelligence, and then my wife nudged me to get a college degree. Iíve always felt we should leave the world better than when we entered it. I wanted to make the lives of others better, so I picked nursing.

What was the highlight of your career?

In 2005, the Texas House and Senate presented a joint resolution recognizing my work, and they announced that Feb. 7, 2005, would be Tim Flynn Day. That was a pretty special day. Being featured in The New York Times in April 2012 was also a highlight. I went to Starbucks that day and picked up all of the copies of the Times. The cashier asked if I was starting a paper route, and I explained that I was in the paper.


Heather Stringer is a freelance writer. Post a comment below or email editorSouth@nurse.com.