In the summer of 2001, Kimberly “KB” Berry was in her 15th year in the booming Las Vegas property management business. She was good at what she did, serving her fellow man, helping to make sure apartment complexes were running smoothly and residents were living happily. She and her husband, an Air Force search and rescue specialist who would later become a Henderson police officer, had four boys ranging in age from 2 to 20. It was a stable way of life in a stable world.
Within six years, she was in her first week as a nurse at the Sunrise Hospital emergency department, assisting a doctor as he placed a catheter into a patient’s brain.
September 11, 2001, had its butterfly-effect impact on just about everyone. For Berry, it brought a stagnant Vegas real-estate market, a timely pink slip, and a belated opportunity to do what she’d always believed she was meant to do.
Berry grew up with dreams of becoming a nurse, and started nursing school after high school. Soon, though, she had two small children and bills to pay. So she made her peace with the dark logic of growing up and got down to the business of earning a paycheck. But not long after setting the dream aside, Berry traveled to Fort Hood, Texas, to meet her birth mother.
“I said, ‘So, what do you do?’” Berry recalls. “She said, ‘I’m a nurse here at the base.’ It was one of those chills-up-the-spine moments.” The moment stayed with her for the next two decades—a nagging sense that nursing had not just been a dream, but a destiny. When her post-9/11 layoff coincided almost exactly with the opening of Nevada State College in Henderson, she knew what she had to do.
In 2006, Berry was part of NSC’s first four-year graduating class. She began her career at Summerlin Hospital and moved to Sunrise in 2007. In June 2009 she became nurse manager of the Sunrise emergency department, making herself available day and night, seven days a week, to help her team.
Berry’s long road to nursing has given her a special appreciation for what she calls the “core value” of the profession—to treat every patient as an individual. “We need to relate to who they are, rather than the guy in bed 18 or the bleed in bed 13.” Today’s NSC nursing students and recent graduates come to Sunrise to train with her; each week she asks them to tell her how something touched their hearts or they touched someone’s heart. The empathy has practical implications—better management of waiting time, clearer explanation of procedures and gentler treatment of suffering patients.
And sometimes there’s something extra. “We had a wedding in the emergency department,” says Berry. “A patient was terminal and had taken a turn for the worse. He and his fiancée had been waiting forever to get married. We had the chaplain do the ceremony and brought flowers from the gift shop. It was very nice. Very sad, but very nice.”