When Sue Quist graduated from high school "back in the day," she said there were really only two career choices for women - they either became a teacher or a nurse. She chose the latter and couldn't be happier with her decision.

Quist's career in nursing eventually led her to working in hospice, and on June 27, she retired as the Hospice of Douglas County supervisor. The 25 years she spent in hospice were a really good fit, she said.

Quist started working in hospice in 1994, became the program's care coordinator in 2000, and in 2015, took on the supervisor role.

The people she helped, the families she met and the nurses and volunteers she worked with are a part of the job she will never forget and that is the part she will miss the most.

"I am not saying goodbye to the people," she said. "I am only saying goodbye to the job."

Taking over for Quist is Patty Marriott.

"Patty is ready to take over and continue with the work we've done," said Quist. "She's well equipped to take over the responsibilities of the supervisor role."

Marriott said Quist was a huge reason why the hospice program is at the level it is.

"Sue always strived to make sure we were offering our patients and families the best care possible," said Marriott. "Her years of experience in hospice and palliative care has really benefited not just our hospice team, but the community as well."

An intimate job

While at a hospital in the Twin Cities, Quist worked with a doctor who had one of the first patients who had in vitro fertilization. At the time, she said people couldn't even fathom the idea. Now, it is common practice.

She moved to the Alexandria area in 1987 with her husband, Terry, who grew up in the area and was a former superintendent of the Alexandria School District. She worked at the Douglas County Hospital, which is now Alomere Health. It wasn't long, however, before she began working at what was known then as Douglas County Public Health. She was a homecare health nurse when hospice was still somewhat new.

In 1994, she started working solely as a hospice nurse, taking care of those who were at the end of their life.

"As a hospice nurse, I always felt you got out of it more than you gave," said Quist. "It was a very intimate job. As a hospice nurse, you worked independently and had a strong sense of what you could do for your patients."

In the beginning, she said, the doctors and nurses didn't know a whole lot about managing pain for those who were at the end of their lives, but through lots of research they came up with a program.

"We learned a lot," she said. "There was a lot of gratification and responsibility in learning how to take care of our patients."

In the early years, the hospice program had about 20 to 30 patients a year. Now, Hospice of Douglas County can take care of more than 200 patients a year.

"I've taken care of a lot of patients over the years and met a lot of family members," she said. "Those people, the family members, they remember you forever."

Quist recalled numerous times when she was stopped while out and about with family members by people stating she took care of their family member 20 years ago.

"Hospice nurses can make an impact," she said, adding that was one of the most rewarding parts of her job. "We know hospice patients are at the end of their life, but we help our patients live as comfortably as they can until they reach the end of life. In the end, you feel like you made a difference and I am proud of that."

Rewarding, yet challenging

Being able to keep people comfortable is a highlight of her career, but Quist noted that being a hospice nurse is a tough job emotionally.

Caring for patients at the end of their life is difficult, she said. When the patient is older and has lived a full life, it makes it a little easier, but it still pulls at your heartstrings.

When the patient is a younger person, she said, it makes it incredibly difficult and those patients tend to stick in your mind a little more.

As a supervisor, one of Quist's challenges was to make sure the hospice team of nurses and volunteers had what they needed when dealing with loss on a daily basis. She wanted to make sure they had the resources they needed to deal with those circumstances because it can become emotional and overwhelming.

"It's sad and you do remember the losses," she said.

Although the average age of a hospice patient is 84, Quist remembers one year when her office had a patient who was a brand new infant and another who was 107 years old.

"There's challenges in that scope of age," she said, adding that the emotions may be the same, but the younger patients are a more difficult scenario.

No matter the age, working with hospice patients requires a team approach.

"There is such a team effort, we are like family," she said. "Our team of people were all working for the same cause and although we all know how to work hard, we also took time to play hard."

Spending time outside the office, doing fun activities together, and laughing and having a good time are things Quist will greatly miss. But she is also looking forward to spending more time enjoying the beautiful lake she lives on and with her family, including her husband and their two grown children.

Face of hospice

Sandy Tubbs, Horizon Public Health's former director, said Quist was "the face and the voice of hospice for so many years." She said Hospice of Douglas County gained its reputation for high quality service and compassionate care largely due to Quist's leadership.

"Sue was never one to accept having a 'good' hospice program. She was constantly striving to have the best," said Tubbs. "She searched for value-added services such as therapy dogs and the We Honor Veterans program, that would enhance the support and compassionate care that the hospice team provided to the patients and their families."

Tubbs said Quist not only had incredible knowledge about the hospice program, she had the compassion and the heart to connect with patients and their families, as well as the medical community and her own staff.

"Sue has been, and will always be, highly respected not only in our community, but across the state by her peers in similar positions," Tubbs said. "She was gifted with the ability to inject a bit of humor into otherwise stressful situations, which made it a joy to work with Sue. I learned a lot from her and will be forever grateful for having the opportunity to work with her."