Teaching with compassion earns Liz Mantych a 2017 Excellence in Nursing nomination
“They said, ‘Oh, Elizabeth, we don’t know. It’s just that you’re very sensitive. That’s going to be a hard road for you,’” Mantych explains. “I said, ‘No, I think my sensitivity is what will make me a good nurse.’”
Her parents told her they fully supported her no matter what, and that if she really wanted to she should give nursing a try.
She did. And then some. Mantych went on to complete not only her bachelor’s degree in nursing but also her master’s and eventually her doctorate in nursing practice. She worked for a time in an oncology unit in a Boston hospital and even learned how to care for hospice patients in London. Along the way, a friend convinced her that teaching nursing students was also something she should try. As soon as she did, she was hooked.
Now, more than 30 years later, Mantych’s incredible nursing career has earned her some special recognition. St. Louis Magazine has nominated her for a 2017 Excellence in Nursing Award in their nurse educator category.
Mantych credits good fortune and hard work for her nomination. But it also just might have something to do with Liz Mantych herself – with her fast-talking, energetic kindness, and the teaching philosophy she’s built upon something she had back when she was an undergraduate – the ability to recognize a wide variety of strengths.
“My main goal is to make each of my student nurses – he or she – feel like they have a lot of gifts and talents and a lot to give the profession,” says Mantych. “A lot of times they tie their self-esteem into how fast they were with a procedure or how organized they were on their nursing unit. They frequently gauge their competency on technical skills.
“Those things are important, of course, but I also want them to discover that they have a lot of other skills, such as creativity, emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills. Maybe they’re good at helping a patient relax or explaining information to a family that doesn’t speak English. It can be challenging to get them to think out of the box sometimes, but once they do they’re like, ‘Oh wow. I am a good nurse.’”
Building that confidence, Mantych says, is of particular importance for the population of students that she serves.
As the director of UMSL’s RN to BSN program, she often, though not always, teaches student nurses who have years of experience in the field. Many of them face great obstacles just to get themselves into the classroom.
Her mission from their first meeting is twofold: Make them glad they came, and then make them see their own value to the profession.
“A lot of them come to class exhausted,” she explains. “They’re tired from working 12-hour shifts in addition to raising families and other responsibilities. They go home from work thinking, ‘I didn’t do a good enough job’ – thinking of the things they did not do. I think when they return to school for their bachelor’s, it’s really key for us to help them think of all the good things they’re doing and all the other skills they can use.”
How does Mantych go about achieving that goal? She starts with humor.
“I was brought up in a family that appreciates humor, and it’s important in my own family today. Making someone laugh is an easy way to break down barriers and make people feel comfortable. I feel like laughter transcends. It’s universal. No matter what age they are, whether they really want to be in the classroom or not, nothing’s better than a laugh. It’s like a deep breath. It makes everyone feel lighter.”
Alongside humor comes kindness.
“I think it’s so important to be kind and to respect your students. I have true respect for the students I teach and have learned so much from them over the years. Because of this mutual respect, I feel my classroom has been a place that cultivates positive learning.”
Finally, Mantych offers a constant recognition and celebration of humanity — her own and her students. She does it through the kind of small connections that she believes make a real difference. She is always interested in learning more about her students.
“I just want to be able to ask them, ‘Hey, how was Disney Land?’ or ‘How was the wedding?’ I want them to know that someone sees them. And I just think it’s important to be a real person.”
Mantych’s parents modeled one other thing that she also shares with her students – a love for entertaining. Each semester, she hosts the final class period at her home.
“I’m a terrible cook,” she says with a laugh, “So I just pick up the food and we have the last class discussion and reflect on the semester while we eat.”
Why? Because it’s real. She remembers a nursing professor when she was in school who once invited the class to her home for lunch.
“It was so nice, so meaningful. I just thought, ‘That’s a real person.’ And I wanted to be able to do that, too.”
Of course, Mantych points out, just because she grounds her teaching in humor and kindness and occasionally includes food, it doesn’t mean everything is a party.
Her students are sharpening fundamental skills, developing leadership and learning to connect community engagement with nursing practice. They work through real-world assignments that develop an understanding and appreciation of how evidence-based practice touches everything a nurse does.
In short, Mantych says that she and every other member of the UMSL nursing faculty do everything they can to give the students all the tools they need to get to a better place in their professions. To her, that’s exactly what nursing is – helping someone get to a better place. It’s something she’ll never stop doing.
“My friends will say, ‘Oh, don’t you miss nursing?’ Because I’m teaching. And I say, ‘No, I am nursing. It’s just in a different way. Nursing – once you go to nursing school – it changes you. It becomes an approach to life. Nursing is the framework I use to provide care for all individuals, whether it’s my own children, my students or patients. Education is the tool I use to make a difference.”
The 2017 Excellence in Nursing Awards will be presented by St. Louis Magazine at the Chase Park Plaza on April 19. Mantych isn’t focused on winning her category.
“I’ve been so blessed already. I’ve been so fortunate to have a profession that is a career, a hobby, a passion and a way of life all rolled into one. I’ve been so lucky.”
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