Ann Dakunchak, BSN, who works in the OR, and her husband Peter, moved to Philadelphia in 1970. A recent nursing school graduate, she had been working at a community hospital in Scranton when they moved and now she was starting work at HUP. She recalled the move to the Philadelphia region being “overwhelming at first. I was trying to adjust to being newly married, to a new city, and a new job.”
In 1970, both HUP and the surrounding environment were much different. Neither Silverstein nor Rhoads had been built and the Hilton Hotel (not yet Penn Tower) was across the street. Perelman Center was not even in the planning stage; the Philadelphia Civic Center and Convention Center were still across the street, hosting graduations, concerts (including the Jackson 5’s first concert for Motown Records that year) and sporting events.
Dakunchak slowly got used to her new routine, but was very disappointed when the OR director at the time assigned her to otorhinolaryngology (ear, nasal, and head and neck surgery). “I so wanted to do open heart surgery,” she said. “I cried for two weeks.”
But she soon discovered that the ENT residents and attendings were “some of the nicest people I’d ever worked for,” she said. When her nurse manger took a six-week vacation and put Dakunchak in charge (just three months after orientation), “they were all so helpful to me.” In fact, when the nurse manager told her about an opening in heart surgery shortly after she returned, Dakunchak turned it down. “I discovered that I really wanted to stay in ENT.”
In 1970, the ORs were smaller and “there were no robotics, no endoscopic procedures. Everything was an open case with a surgical incision,” she said. “So much equipment is needed for today’s procedures but it was simple back then.” So simple, in fact, that she was often the one to troubleshoot and fix some equipment when she was on call evenings or on weekends. She learned from watching — and asking questions of — the employees who normally fixed the equipment during the week.
Dakunchak learned new techniques in the OR as surgery evolved, for example, the arrival of laparoscopic surgery, and, along the way, she also earned a BSN from Widener University. She left full-time work seven years ago but still works on Saturdays. Not even COVID has kept her from working weekends, saying that, with the PPE, she felt safer at the hospital than in a grocery store.
Last month, she received a special honor. NASCAR asked Penn Medicine for a health care hero to honor during a race and Dukanchak was recommended. Her name was displayed on the Yorktel sponsored NO.1 car at a NASCAR playoffs race at Talladega Superspeedway!
Her decision to stay — at both HUP and in ENT surgery — has been a great one, she said. Her words of advice: “Have a job you’re confident doing and where you’re happy.”