Every year in late June, a photo composite of new residents appears on the wall at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. That’s where James Zorn, R.N., MBA, caught a first glimpse at Liz Foley, M.D. He made sure their paths crossed on the floor during the night shift, and the rest is history. James and Liz Zorn talk about their commitment to medicine, raising their two children, and supporting each other.
James: I took an evening class at Mesa Community College—an emergency medical technician (EMT) course. And it lit a fire. I went and met with the professors and they said, “Why not nursing?” I didn’t have a reason to say no.
Do many people still associate the profession with women?
James: I think the stereotype is less and less. When I go to the hospital to see Liz, I see younger and younger [male nurses]. All my uncles were [North Dakota] farmers, blue-collar kinds of guys. When I told them what I was doing, they just gave me a funny look. But I’ve never regretted it. It’s been a great career for me.
Liz, your dad was the only doctor in a small town in South Dakota. That must have influenced your decision.
Liz: He was very respected and loved, so it was a nice template for me as I was growing up. I also had some health issues when I was young and I interfaced with the medical community a fair amount.
How did your treatment shape your life?
Liz: I had a very unusual malignancy when I was younger—a cancer—and it required treatment that was not available in our state. My mom and I would travel back and forth to Omaha. On one hand, it was fairly disruptive [to the] family, but on the other hand, for me, it was formative.
You were able to spend a lot of time with your mom.
Liz: I did. I think I really learned to appreciate every day and I think for every cancer survivor you really appreciate every day. Even now.
You started out intending to enter primary care, but you chose to work in the pediatric intensive care unit. What’s the biggest challenge?
Liz: A large part of the day is taking care of the families and parents as much as it is taking care of the children. Some of the children are critically ill; some don’t survive their hospital stay. We have very sobering conversations with families at times under very difficult circumstances.
James, you worked as a pediatric case manager and then decided an MBA would help in your practice as a nurse. Why?
James: When people talk about the healthcare crisis, it’s not really the “care”—there are wonderful people like my wife out there giving the care—it’s the financing of it. I’d get kids with the rarest diseases and I had to try to figure out how to keep them in the home, what kind of support services to give them, kind of like a super social worker. I told Liz, “If I cannot talk finance, I cannot help these people.”
In addition to your work in pediatric critical care, Liz, you’re the medical staff president for Phoenix Children’s. What does that mean?
Liz: I oversee all the applications, the quality of the practitioners, and then also serve as the representative of the physicians to the hospital administration and to the public. We are transitioning from a smaller-sized hospital into a gigantic hospital. We are going to be among the top few children’s hospitals in terms of our bed capacity, one of the top children’s hospitals in the nation.
Sounds like you are speaking the administrative language of James, with the RN and the MBA.
Liz: James has served as a terrific resource for me because he has the clinical foundations. So he understands the context of the problem or the issue, but then is able to help direct my thoughts into a productive pathway that really is enhanced by his past education and training. A nice benefit.
James: I like to think I provide a sounding board. I always tell her that you don’t have to come into the room with all the answers and that sometimes the best resolve of a meeting is a good question, because it sends everybody else out thinking, “How are we going to solve this problem?”
James, you’re now a stay-at-home dad to Alex, 9, and Emma, 7. How’s that going?
James: I love taking them to school every morning and walking them in. Some of the teachers say, “James, you can just drop them off.” I’m going to walk them in until they basically tell me I’m embarrassing them.
That’s coming! Any plans for Valentine’s Day?
James: First we have to check my wife’s BlackBerry. With Liz’s schedule, all holidays are subject to availability. We’ve taught our children it’s not the day that’s important. Going out for a nice meal with some wine and pure adult conversation without interruption—it happens, but does it have to happen on Feb. 14?
Liz: Our life is about these little kids that we have. And it seems to me that it’s another five minutes for them to be interested in us and after that, we are going to be left in the dust. You know, all that being said, no worries, we will celebrate the day.
Liz: At least.RAK