Generosity of the heart
Generosity of the heart: Remembering obstetrics nurse Lynn Yim-Lin Shih
Shih family donates $1 million to support UW nurses and students
If nurses could be cloned, Lynn Yim-Lin Shih would have been the ideal choice. Her career as an obstetrics nurse spanned 32 years at the University of Washington Medical Center, starting in 1980 on the Mother Baby Unit as a bedside nurse providing care to newly postpartum women and their babies as well as teaching baby care classes for newly postpartum families. Later, she transferred to the UW Maternal and Infant Care Clinic at the Montlake hospital campus, working as a team nurse for the remainder of her accomplished career.
“Lynn was all those aspects you’d want in a nurse. Her goal was to help her patients,” said Sue Huth, an obstetrics nurse who worked with Lynn on the Mother Baby Unit. “She was passionate, kind, and nonjudgmental. She was professional yet had a sense of humor. She remained positive and calm, always open to helping others.”
Lynn was the anchor to her family, friends, and colleagues. She was always there, creating safe, healing and caring spaces you could tether yourself to. The kind of person who everyone stopped to talk to in the halls. Someone who would pause for 20 minutes to have a conversation with you about how you are really doing. Patients returning to the clinic for multiple pregnancies asked for her.
Lynn was “the glue that kept everyone together,” said Theresa Ismach, one of the team nurses who worked with her at the Maternal and Infant Care Clinic for 23 years. “She was warm, generous, and caring. There was nobody who didn’t like her.”
At the age of eight, Lynn immigrated to Seattle from Hong Kong with her family. As the eldest daughter, she spent her childhood helping her younger siblings and parents navigate life in the United States.
When it came time to decide her career path, she wanted to become a nurse and, as a first-generation college student, she figured out the application process herself. Not knowing about scholarships or other types of financial aid, Lynn worked hard for four years to attend nursing school at the University of Washington, paying tuition and buying textbooks from the wages she earned. If she had grown up in Hong Kong, she would probably not have been able to pursue higher education and a career in nursing. She always appreciated the opportunities she received in the United States.
At the age of 24, Lynn met her husband, Jerry Shih. They married and started a family, raising their daughter, Megan, and son Trevor. She continued her nursing career, working weekends and staying home during the week to care for her two young children.
Lynn cared for her patients like she did for her own family. Her nurturing and healing personality helped countless tiny, hours-old patients, whom she gently bathed and diapered as she taught parents about how to care for their new babies.
She expertly tended to mothers through their multiple pregnancies and postpartum recoveries, sharing in their struggles, losses and triumphs.
One of Lynn’s patients, whose first pregnancy resulted in a term still-birth, went on to have a second pregnancy and successful term live birth under her care. Ismach recalled a picture of them with huge smiles shortly after the birth.
“She was always gracious and pleasant,” said Ismach. “The kind of person who said, ‘Let me help you, let me figure out what to do.”
Lynn’s kind nature made it easy to be her colleague and friend. “Lynn had so many friends,” said Dr. Edith Cheng, Lynn’s colleague and attending physician at the UW Maternal and Infant Care Clinic. “She was so easy to be open with, and she broke down hierarchical barriers.”
They swapped stories about their growing kids and supported each other when family duties overtook work. Sometimes they even watched each other’s kids at the clinic when childcare fell through.
Lynn’s colleagues shared that she was highly organized and methodical. In their shared office space, she was always the one with the spotless desk.
“That’s how she was,” smiled Ismach. “She really gave me a strong foundation in being organized, how to manage the case load, and keep track of knowledge.”
In 2011, Lynn started to feel back pain that continued for a few weeks. An X-ray revealed a suspicious shadow on her lungs, and after further testing, she was diagnosed with Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, life changed, and she became the patient, relying on her family, nurses, and doctors to help her navigate a new reality. Lynn’s colleagues at the clinic rallied, donating over 1,000 hours of paid time off to her so that she could keep her job and medical benefits while seeking cancer treatment.
Lynn shares her journey and offers advice at the 2013 HOPE Summit for the LUNGevity Foundation.
Lynn beat all statistics for stage IV lung cancer, fighting bravely for eight years and enduring many medical treatments and interventions before she sadly passed away in 2019.
“She lived by the philosophy of ‘generosity of the heart,’” said Jerry. Lynn had the kindest heart, always putting her friends and family first. She remains the biggest role model for her children on the importance of thinking about and helping others.
To honor Lynn, the Shih family decided to invest in people like Lynn did with her patients. Jerry generously committed $1 million to the University of Washington, and together, with his son and daughter, they decided to support two endowed funds, the Lynn Shih Endowed Professional Development Fund for Nurses at the UW Medical Center and the Lynn Shih Endowed Emergency Fund for Nursing Students.
A portion of the gift will also support the UW Medical Center, which will bolster capital funding for the coming renovation and expansion of the Maternal and Infant Care Clinic. In recognition of this gift and the Shih family’s generosity, the Maternal and Infant Care Clinic Lobby will be named the Lynn Shih Maternal and Infant Care Clinic Lobby.
For the Shih family, an emergency fund for nursing students would be a meaningful way to honor Lynn’s perseverance during her early years of education and career as a nurse.
“It’s for people who yearn to be nurses, who will do anything to prove themselves, but find themselves in an unforeseen situation where they don’t have the financial means to succeed despite all their incredible effort,” said Jerry. “For us, the best way to honor Lynn is to help people succeed just like her, to go on and make just as big of an impact, and then give back in return.”
The two endowed funds for nurses and students will first be available in 2024. UW School of Nursing (SoN) students who are currently experiencing unexpected financial hardship may be eligible for emergency financial aid from UW and/or SoN. They can visit the SoN emergency funding webpage for more information.
The professional development fund for nurses at the UW Medical Center will support continuing nursing education opportunities for OB nurses like Lynn.
During Lynn’s career, she and her colleagues sometimes used personal resources to advance their careers. “Lynn always wished nurses had more support,” said Jerry. The professional development fund will help nurses feel valued and supported by the UW institution.
“The Maternal Infant Care Center nurses at UWMC are touched by the generosity of the Shih family,” said Cindy Sayre, chief nursing officer at UW Medical Center, double alumna of the SoN and honorary assistant dean of clinical practice at the SoN. “We remember Lynn fondly and will ensure that this gift is used to celebrate her legacy as a nurse. UWMC honors and supports every nurse to achieve their career goals through professional development, and this donation will be greatly appreciated by the OB nurses.”
The lobby at the Maternal and Infant Care Clinic will become UW’s first space named after a nurse. It will also serve as a special place for the Shih family, including Jerry and Lynn’s children and grandchildren, colleagues, and friends, to return to and remember her.
Her generosity of the heart will now continue in perpetuity through supporting current and future UW nurses, who are the backbone of the University’s nursing workforce. They deserve as much care and support as they give to their patients. Let’s apply our hearts to them. Impact lives like Lynn.
– Jennifer Hunt