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​Nurse celebrates nearly 42 years at OSH​

Monday, May 8, 2023

From housekeeping to program nurse manager and numerous patient caregiving roles in between, Kirk Buckley has worked in nearly every program at Oregon State Hospital (OSH). 

Currently, Buckley is the longest-serving OSH employee and celebrates 42 years of service this August. Through it all, he said two things have remained constant – commitment to patient care and unfortunately, the negative assumptions society holds about mental illness. 
“I think people’s perception of mental illness is people on the side of the road living in tents or who have nothing. You have to understand this reaches and affects everyone,” he said. “I’ve worked with people who are songwriters, who wrote books, worked for governors. These were people who had lives as productive citizens.”  

Buckley has witnessed the hospital through five decades of changes and worked in every program offered in its history. 

“I really grew up here. The hospital offered me a lot in the sense of education,” said Buckley, who received certifications as a nurse assistant (CNA) and medical assistant (CMA) through former OSH programs. 

When he decided to advance his nursing career, he worked night shifts to earn his nursing degree in the early 1990s. He held numerous nursing and nursing supervisor positions, including staff RN, charge RN, mental health supervising RN, and for the past five years has served as a program nurse manager where he supports nurse managers who work directly with patients and provides mentorship to nursing staff.

For nurses who may be interested in a career at OSH, Buckley encourages a lack of ego, curiosity and the ability to strike a balance between the stressful environment here and your home life. 

“In this business we are the tool of our trade. We must remain sharp, engaged, alert and sensitive,” he said. “It’s really for someone who wants to be a good detective and offer good nursing because as a psych nurse, you really have to be a detective. Aside from a diagnosis, you have to ask, ‘what’s presenting right here in front of me?’ You need to look at behavior and ask questions about what may be causing the behavior beside the diagnosis and read through the lines and be that detective.” 

His career has also been about teamwork, he said. 

“You’re not on an island. You have support above and below you,” he said. “Our job is to engage with a patient and for them to see something in us that they can put their trust in. We have to have this guarded, detached, yet engaged therapeutic ‘somehowness.’ I don’t want to sugarcoat it. It’s a hard place to work.” 

He stressed the importance to disengage and decompress from work when the shift is done. 

For Buckley, his faith has played a role in helping him find that balance. His interest in the connection between faith and science prompted him to return to the night shift to have a schedule that allowed him to complete a master’s degree in theology. His studies have been therapeutic to his work at the hospital, he said. 

“I don’t preach or try to convert. A lot of patients here know that I’m a Christian and they’ve asked me to pray with them. It gives them hope. That’s certainly a place to put your hope. I think prayer has shown to be valuable in recovery – whether physical or mental,” he said. 

It’s been a long road and at times, Buckley said it’s hard to remember what continues to motivate him. 

The benefits, salary and professional growth opportunities he’s had have made it difficult to look elsewhere, he said. 

But there’s more to it than that. To hear him talk about his experiences, it’s clear that his pride for his work and his colleagues runs deep and it shows in a corner of his home office that acts as a “shrine” to the hospital. Displayed in a corner nook are certificates of appreciation, books written about OSH or that feature OSH patients, a brick from part of the original hospital and other tokens that remind him of the place he’s worked for 42 years. 

“There’s part of me that wants to disengage, but this has been part of my 42 years, 44-plus by the time I’m done,” he said. “This is part of my make-up. It’s part of who I am. Growing up, even when I came here in housekeeping – I didn’t know I’d stay here. But it’s been such an intriguing place.” 

That’s not to say that he’s not looking forward to his 2025 retirement date. 

“It’s been a wonderful career,” he said. “When you come here, you’re on a team. You may have different points of view, but we have one focus – how are we going to make life better for the patients.” 


Kirk Buckley celebrates 42 years at OSH this year.

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