Why nursing at a nuclear energy facility is not your standard career

You might not realize Duke Energy is like a small city: almost any profession found in a city can be found in this company. From pilots (both full-sized aircraft and drones) to marine biologists to nurses. Nurses? Yes. Duke Energy’s nuclear fleet even employs nurses.

Ender Jones
Ender Jones manages Occupational Medical Services for the southeast region of Duke Energy.

“At nuclear sites, it’s imperative to have full-time nurses to complete the medical exams required by our licenses, which are governed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration,” says Ender Jones, manager, Occupational Medical Services, Duke Energy South. She oversees medical services at the three nuclear plants in South Carolina, and employee care/field nurses across the company’s southern territory. 

Among nuclear workers who undergo regular testing are licensed operators, security officers, engineers, quality assurance inspectors, crane operators and members of each site’s on-site fire brigade and hazardous materials teams.

And among the exams administered are audiometry, spirometry (fit-testing for respirators), pulmonary function (ensures workers can sustain wearing heavy equipment for long periods), physicals, visual acuity, olfactory, lab work (checks blood and urine for diabetes, thyroid, kidney and other issues), electrocardiogram (EKG) and tactile (licensed operators must be able to distinguish among a knob, lever, switch and handle, sight-unseen).

“My job is to make sure the people responsible for the health and safety of the

Rebecca Pryor is an occupational health nurse at Catawba Nuclear Station.

public are the healthiest they can be to perform at the absolute highest level possible,” says Rebecca Pryor, occupational health nurse at Catawba Nuclear Station in York, S.C.

Her other duties include ensuring any medications prescribed to operators and others are approved by the NRC, assisting the physicians who visit the site weekly and triaging first-aid events such as a particle in an eye or a scratch on an arm. Pryor notes that such activities save both the employees and the company time and money by preventing the need to go to an off-site urgent care clinic for treatment.

The nuclear nurses and physicians have caught undiagnosed heart murmurs, skin cancers and diabetes, among other medical conditions unknown to workers, who were then able to seek further evaluation and treatment.  

“Our ultimate goal is to ensure our employees are healthy to perform their duties,” Jones, who worked at Catawba before moving to the corporate office, says. “For example, someone with uncontrolled diabetes could suffer vision impairment or lose consciousness. We evaluate employees on an annual or biennial basis to ensure any medical issues are under control; these evaluations serve as a safeguard. We protect our employees so they can protect the public.”

Both Jones and Pryor had long careers in nursing before joining Duke Energy’s nuclear fleet. Jones, who came to Catawba in 2015, has been in nursing for 15 years, with experience in medical-surgical, travel and emergency/trauma. Pryor was a licensed practical nurse before earning her registered nurse degree and working in labor and delivery for 16 years; she served as a school nurse for a year prior to joining the Catawba team in 2017. Altogether, nurses in Duke Energy’s nuclear fleet have over 125 combined years of experience.

And both nurses have come to appreciate nuclear’s uniqueness. “I’ve really enjoyed meeting the exceptionally smart and creative group we have here,” Pryor says. “It’s the expectation of nuclear employees to be above standard, to be a step above everyone else.”

“Over the years, I’ve been able to develop a great rapport with employees, and I’ve learned the whole concept and process of nuclear power,” says Jones. “Nuclear has my heart now.”

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