NOEL — Children around McDonald County call her “The Book Nurse.” Since starting as a family nurse practitioner at Ozarks Community Hospital’s clinic in Noel four months ago, Karen Madsen has earned that title.
Nearly half of the clinic’s patients are under 18, and Madsen discovered many of them had few books of their own at home, something that troubled her. Books can help children gain knowledge and promote overall emotional health and happiness. So “The Book Nurse” was born.
First using books she purchased on her own, Madsen began asking children after their medical visits if they would like a free book. She saw their faces light up when they picked out a book — anything from a beginner Dr. Seuss book to chapter books for teenagers.
As the program has grown, she solicited book donations from her family and from others in the OCH organization. Now she always has a bundle of books close by for her next patient’s visit. To date, she has provided more than 150 free books to children from Noel and throughout McDonald County.
After a few weeks of distributing books, children throughout the community began telling their friends the tale of “The Book Nurse,” and before long children were coming in for routine health visits asking by that name to see her, said Colton Holland, director of the Noel Clinic.
“We had a child come in for an appointment and ask her: ‘Are you The Book Nurse?’” Holland said. “We realized that what she was doing was spreading throughout the community, and people were more comfortable coming to the doctor because they felt like they knew her already. Many times we find that people are reluctant to come to the doctor for a variety of reasons, but people enjoy coming to see ‘The Book Nurse.’ Karen’s kindness really goes a long way.”
Madsen’s most poignant encounter was with a child who said she had never owned a book and clutched her new book from “The Book Nurse” as if it was her most prized possession.
“She looked at all the books and chose one — Charlotte’s Web — and said, ‘I’ve never read this one before!’” Madsen said. “She hugged the nurse and told her how happy it made her feel. It was a sweet thing to see.”
“I think that it’s shocking that in 2020 there are children in this country who don’t own a book,” she continued. “I’m trying to do whatever I can do to correct that.”
Books have been a lifelong passion for Madsen. The granddaughter of a long-time kindergarten teacher, Jessie Showalter, Karen grew up in adjacent Newton County, where she obtained her first library card at age 5. It didn’t take long for her to be a regular at the library, reading as much as she was able.
Her home was filled with books as well, which enlightened her childhood. One of her favorites was “Little Women.”
“Books have always been a part of my life, and when I was thinking of ways to give back to my patients, I thought giving children a book would be a lot better than just giving them a piece of candy,” Madsen said. “It’s a way to show them that I truly care about them.”
Madsen credits the entire team at the Noel clinic for growing the free book program, which has become an opportunity to provide extra outreach to the community. First, people have to feel comfortable coming to the clinic, which provides both preventative healthcare and assists those who are sick. While many people avoid the doctor because they fear it will cost too much, and with some in the community who can’t speak English, staff members make extra efforts to help patients feel comfortable by helping them with affordable healthcare options and ensuring they feel well cared for when they come in. In fact, the clinic never turns away “walk-in” patients who don’t have an appointment, even if that means working past closing time.
Holland says the team — Citlaly “Lolly” Hernandez, Natalia Vazquez and Rosa Sanchez — will do things like sitting next to patients in the waiting room who are having trouble filling out new patient paperwork, and they are extra compassionate to those patients visiting the doctor for the first time — both children and adults — who may be anxious or uncomfortable. They will also help patients who are concerned about their healthcare costs, working directly with insurance companies and providing affordable options to those who don’t have insurance.
The entire team in Noel has embraced “The Book Nurse” and her idea, which has grown efforts to ensure every child in McDonald County has his or her own book. It has also built trust in the community that everyone will be well cared for.
“This effort starts at the front from the moment people walk into our clinic,” Madsen said. “It’s all of us working together. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do, and I’m excited about how we’re going to continue to do this in the future.”
Madsen smiles when she’s told children in the community have called her “The Book Nurse,” a title she embraces, and thinks of her grandmother, who she hopes would be very proud of her efforts. She wants to pass on that love of books to the children in the community.
“If that’s how they remember me, that would be perfectly fine with me,” Madsen said, humbly. “You get to a place where the difference you make in life is much more important than anything else, and I think we should all remember that.”
OZARKS COMMUNITY HOSPITAL IS A TRI-STATE SAFETY-NET HEALTHCARE PROVIDER HEADQUARTERED IN GRAVETTE, ARK., SERVING BOTH URBAN AND RURAL COMMUNITIES THROUGHOUT THE OZARKS. OUR HOSPITAL IS BASED IN GRAVETTE AND INCLUDES A MULTITUDE OF CLINICS LOCATED IN SOUTHWEST MISSOURI, NORTHWEST ARKANSAS AND NORTHEAST OKLAHOMA. OCH LOCATIONS CAN ACCEPT MEDICAID, MEDICARE, UHC MILITARY AND OTHER INSURANCES. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT WWW. OCHONLINE.COM.