Dr. Mustard celebrates 45-plus years of service at Dorn
In 1977, ‘Star Wars’ & ‘Saturday Night Fever’ opened in theaters. The first Apple II & Commodore PET computers went on sale. In August 1977, Elvis died at age 42, Tom Brady was born and Ruth Mustard, fresh from college with her nursing degree, started working at the Columbia Veterans Hospital.
Dr. Ruth Mustard, Associate Director for Patient Care and Nursing Services, was recently recognized for 45-plus years at the William Jennings Bryan Dorn Columbia VA Health Care System. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter renamed the hospital after U.S. Representative from South Carolina, William Jennings Bryan Dorn.
“I grew up on a farm in Kansas and went to college 35 miles away,” said Mustard. “I thought I’d like to try living in a different part of the country.”
Her sister was an Army nurse during the Vietnam era and was stationed at Fort Jackson. Mustard visited her several times and liked the area. After graduating, she visited and submitted applications at area hospitals.
“On my last day in town, I popped in the VA on a lark. I filled out an application, but no one was available to do an interview in Columbia, so I had a courtesy interview and physical at the Topeka VA after I returned home and was offered a position at the Columbia. Veterans Hospital.”
“I always had an interest in critical care and cardiac care,” she said. She started in acute medicine, was there about a year, then moved to the Medical Intensive Care Unit, which was a six-bed ICU.
After the new medical tower was built in 1979, they expanded the number of beds to an eight-bed MICU, a six-bed coronary care unit and a 10-bed progressive care unit. She applied for a nurse manager position for the MICU and was accepted. She spent almost half of her career as a clinical nurse bedside in the MICU and as a nurse manager.
She realized how important it was to take care of Veterans. “What got me here was a little bit of the pay and mostly the benefits, and then I learned to love the Veterans. Back then, most of our patients were the WWII Veterans,” she said “I loved those Veterans. They’re all almost gone now. I knew they needed some extra TLC, and they were special. I kinda got hooked.”
There were lots of changes over the years. In the 1990’s, Dr. Ken Kizer, the Under Secretary for Health in the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, is widely credited as the chief architect responsible for the vast improvement in the VA healthcare delivery system.
During the improvements in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, “we expanded, took care of a lot more Veterans and completed a lot of renovation projects,” Mustard said. “One of the highlights of the renovation projects was the renovations in our community living center to make more of a home-like environment. I’m very proud of that.”
The leadership at the Columbia VA HCS greatly appreciates Dr. Mustard’s experience. “Dr. Mustard serving our Veterans and their families for this many years is amazing and illustrates her dedication to our mission,” said Sterling Bird, Assistant Director of the Columbia VA Health Care System. “Dr. Mustard’s experience and knowledge are irreplaceable and have greatly benefitted the Veterans Health Administration and the Columbia VA Health Care System through the sharing of her institutional knowledge.”
“I’m very happy,” said Mustard. “I have never regretted coming to work for the VA and being a nurse at the VA.” When asked what advice she would offer to her 45-year younger self, just starting out at the then Columbia Veterans Hospital, she simply replied, “Get ready for a great ride.”