Dr. Mustard celebrates 45-plus years of service

Today, March 30, is Doctors’ Day, an annual observance aimed at appreciating physicians who help save lives everywhere. Here’s a salute to a doctor who has been with VA for 45 years.

In 1977, ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Saturday Night Fever’ opened in theaters. The first Apple II and Commodore PET computers went on sale. In August 1977, Elvis died at age 42, football’s Tom Brady was born, and Ruth Mustard, fresh from college with her nursing degree, started working at Columbia VA.

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.

VA doctor at celebration

Dr. Mustard was honored at a celebration

“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.

Always had interest in critical care

“On my last day in town, I popped into 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 soon realized how important it was to take care of 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.”

Very proud of community living center

During the improvements in the 1990s and early 2000s, “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.”

Columbia VA appreciates Dr. Mustard’s experience: “Dr. Mustard serving our Veterans and their families for this many years is amazing, and it 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 VA and the Columbia VA through the sharing of her institutional knowledge.”

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.”

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