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One Mom Inspires All Five of Her Daughters to Go into Nursing


Every mother wants a good life for her children. That’s why Mary Koenig-Roach inspired her daughters to follow in her footsteps. She’s worked as a NICU nurse at UnityPoint Health-Meriter Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin for 40 years. All that time at the hospital made quite an impression on her children. Every one of them has decided to pursue a career in nursing.

Raising Five Daughters as a Full-Time Nurse

Mary Koenig-Roach kept a busy schedule as her five daughters, Alicia, Andrea, Abigail, Alison, and Ava, were growing up. She worked the 12-hour overnight shift from 7 PM to 7 AM on Saturdays and Sundays most weekends so she could be home with her kids during the week.

A teacher sometimes looked after the girls while she was at work. Over the years, Koenig-Roach came to love the idea of working during the wee hours of the morning, especially with moms and their babies. “I love taking care of babies and I love teaching mothers how to take care of their babies,” Koenig-Roach said.

She’s about to celebrate her 40-year anniversary at UnityPoint Health-Meriter Hospital, and she says she has no plans to retire any time soon. “We always ask her when she’s going to retire and she says, ‘Never,’” her eldest daughter, Alicia Barnes, 37, said.

She added that her mother has a history of staying busy. “She’s worked at night ever since she started,” Barnes said. “Then she’ll come home and say, ‘Hey, why don’t you guys come over for dinner?’ And we’ll say, ‘Aren’t you going to take a nap? Are you going to sleep?’ And her motto is ‘she’ll sleep when she’s dead.’”

Alicia remembers growing up calling her mom at the hospital and asking her the names of the babies she was taking care of that night. Koenig-Roach often left her daughters with her husband. “You just never know what happens when the dad is in charge,” she said.

Catching the Healthcare Bug

Seeing their mother give so much to her patients gave her daughters a taste of what it was like to work in healthcare. To commemorate National Nurses Week and the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth, all five daughters are sharing their reasons for getting into the field.

Alicia also works in the NICU at Meriter and the American Family Children’s Hospital, giving her a chance to catch up with her mom on the floor.

Meanwhile, Andrea Short, 35, works as a nurse in the digestive health department at UnityPoint Health-Meriter. “My mom always told me that I should be a nurse when I was growing up because I have a lot of compassion and empathy for people and I just kept kind of pushing it away,” Short said.

Abby Hellebrand, 28, started out as a dental assistant before going back to school for nursing. Now she works alongside her mom in the NICU. “I think growing up, we saw our mom loving what she did and she told us that nursing was a good career,” Hellebrand said, adding that their mom never pushed them to pursue medicine as a career.

“A couple of us, like myself and Andrea, we kind of took the long way around. We didn’t do nursing as our first career, but then we ended up finding that career path,” she added.

As for working next to her mom, Hellebrand says, “I actually love it. It’s nice to have her there to catch up and talk to, but yet she lets me be independent. She’s not a hovering mom at all, so it works out just fine.”

Sometimes Alicia is on the same ward. “It’s like a family reunion up there,” Hellebrand said.

Alison Roach, 23, studies nursing at Clarke University in Iowa. She took an eight-week contract in New Jersey to help out during the pandemic before catching the virus herself. She had to quarantine in a hotel for 14 days alone at her own expense before she could come home.

“The patients I worked with were ages 23 all the way up to 102 or 103,” Roach said. “It was really unique to see each and every one of them with different symptoms of COVID and how sick they got.”

Ava Roach is the youngest at 18. While a senior in high school, she says she plans on studying nursing at UW-Madison in the fall. She completed her training as a certified nursing assistant during the pandemic and already has a job at a nursing home. She says working through COVID-19 has been eye-opening, to say the least. 

“They [the residents] love seeing us. They’re always so excited and thank us so much for visiting and coming in and helping,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to help them and care for them. That’s our job.”

Overall, working in nursing has brought all six women closer together. “It’s definitely a commonality between all of us,” Hellebrand said. “We’re so diverse and we all are different in our personalities and who we are, but it’s definitely something we are able to touch base on and converse and relate to.”

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