A lifetime of caregiving: Retiring CNO reflects on childhood, motherhood, career

Trident Health’s Chief Nursing Officer Lynn Singleton, who plans to retire the end of 2018, is celebrated for her career and presented with news that Charleston Southern University is naming a nursing scholarship after her. Left to right: David Baggs, CSU vice president for development, Singleton, Andreea Meier, CSU dean of nursing

Lynn Singleton has spent her entire life serving others—as a child caring for her sick aunt, as a single mother parenting two children, and as a hospital nurse tending to a plethora of patients.

Singleton said it was her mother, not a formally trained caregiver but a woman with a “nurse at heart,” who first opened her eyes to empathy. The Moncks Corner native said she remembered, as young as age 9, helping her mom bathe, feed and medicate her aunt—a double amputee and blind.

“That sort of became my inspiration,” Singleton said. “It was heartwarming to see one human care for another like that—that’s what I grew up seeing. ...It fueled my passion to do the same thing.”

Singleton’s desire for the medical field soon boiled over into the classroom, sharing her future dream with fellow students on various career days. She said she once dressed up a doll in a white cap and gown to show her love for nursing.

After graduating in 1985 from Berkeley High School—interjecting a “Go, Stags! at the mention of her alma mater—Singleton said she briefly attended College of Charleston before switching to the College of Nursing at the Medical University of South Carolina.

In 1989 she obtained her nursing undergraduate degree and in 1996, her master’s in nursing administration. But Singleton’s love for learning has continued, and she’s currently pursuing her doctorate degree through MUSC.

But after 30-plus years in the medical field, Singleton is hanging up her professional duties—her last day on site at Trident Medical Center was Nov. 8. However, her role as chief nursing officer won’t officially conclude until the year’s end.

As a CNO, Singleton has provided oversight for all patient care processes and policies; led human resources, and managed financial resources for Trident Health’s nursing division.

She said she’s also focused on ensuring “quality outcomes” for patients and their care.

During her time with Trident Health hospitals, Singleton stands out as the first and only African-American to hold a CNO position with the company.

She began her career as a registered nurse at Trident Medical Center in 1989 before taking a job at Summerville Medical Center in 2007. First a CNO at the Flowertown hospital, Singleton took over the same leadership role at Trident Medical in 2016, finishing out her career where she started.

While she’s leaving the medical field, Singleton’s name won’t quickly fade from the community, especially since earlier this fall Charleston Southern University named a nursing scholarship after her.

“I was impressed,” Singleton said. “It brought me to tears.”

Another top accolade to her name is the Dr. Thomas Frist Sr. Humanitarian Award, which she received in 2003. Medical peers nominated Singleton, working at the time as director of Trident Medical’s post-surgical unit.

Singleton jokingly said this past summer she settled on the idea of retirement after an experience made her realize the length of her career. Undergoing surgery at Trident in June, she said she discovered her anesthesiologist was the son of a former colleague.

“It’s probably time to move on,” Singleton said with a laugh.

However, she explained it was actually when stumbling upon some old photos that she felt most prompted to make the “bittersweet” decision. She also wanted more time with her children and mother, who lives with her—Singleton her sole caretaker.

But the years weren’t always easy, especially after Singleton found herself widowed at a young age.

On Jan. 23, 2001, just six days after giving birth to her daughter—with a 14-month-old son also at home—Singleton watched her 35-year-old husband, Benjamin Singleton Jr., succumb to a heart attack.

Earlier in the day at home, she said he had complained of chest pain and was sweating profusely. Despite his efforts to calm Singleton and downplay his discomfort, her medical intuition feared the worst and she called 911. But his condition worsened; and in a short time, he became unresponsive.

As his wife and brother conducted CPR on him, EMS rushed through the door, but they couldn’t save him; and he died later that night at the hospital. Singleton recalled how during her moment of deepest grief she felt the care of others—particularly the night shift nurse supervisor and friend Sandy Isherwood, whom she referred to as her "angel."

“It was just an overwhelming outpouring of love,” Singleton said.

During that emotionally-draining season, Singleton’s mother, along with her sister Myra, came to live with her; and from family support and faith, the single mother said she drew the strength she needed.

“Totally God,” Singleton said. “There’s where you gain stamina and endurance and everything else.”

Throughout her career, Singleton has faced many other tragedies—particularly from watching child patients suffer.

“It’s just hard to see people struggle. We can’t save everyone’s life, but we really do try to our best,” she said.

Luckily, happy moments weave in between the tough times, Singleton said, as she shared her love for helping and mentoring other nurses—the teamwork aspect of the job she said she’ll most miss.

“Over the years, I’ve made a tremendous number of friends and developed a lot of relationships that will last forever in my heart (and) in my mind,” Singleton said.

She expressed pure joy in watching both new nurses grow their skills and nurses, as a whole, care for one another.

“Those are like defining moments for me,” Singleton said. “I believe wholeheartedly in taking care of our people who take care of our patients.”

For Singleton, Eleanor Barham was that memorable nursing mentor and someone with whom she recently reconnected. Unable to shake Barham from her mind, Singleton said she opted to locate her, with help from a coworker. She found the 88-year-old at a local nursing home, and the reunion was one she’ll never forget.

“For me to reconnect with her was amazing,” Singleton said. “She said, ‘Your face is familiar,’ and she almost jumped out of her wheelchair and started laughing.’ She was truly inspiring.”

Post retirement, Singleton said she hopes to move into the realm of teaching, passing down her love for nursing to others interested in the field. And her advice is simple for those with a heart of compassion:

“If it’s your passion to care for others, then nursing is the best way to do that,” Singleton said.