Cyvilla Thomas: A 50-year First

Cyvilla Thomas: A 50-year First

From her desk on the second floor of the OU Physicians Building, Cyvilla Thomas has encountered thousands of patients and scheduled countless procedures through the years. With a half-century of work history coming into the rearview mirror, Thomas, 72, a patient services representative in the Adult Endoscopy Department for OU Health University of Oklahoma Medical Center, will retire on June 28, 2021. She is the first OU Medicine employee to reach this impressive career milestone.

Thomas is known for her persistent cheerfulness and positive approach to her work, which is represented in her e-mail signature. “ASAP” is not a demand for speedy action, rather, it’s “Cyvilla-Speak” for “Always Say A Prayer,” followed by the admonition, “Everyday Above Ground Is A Good Day…So Live Life To The Fullest.”

Kris Gose, President, OU Health University of Oklahoma Medical Center, said: “Cyvilla Thomas is that rare team member whose commitment to patient care is all-encompassing. Her service over 50 years has formed a cornerstone of an organizational culture built on patient-centered care and excellence. She and others like her become the visible, face-to-face expression of compassion every patient hopes to see in what may otherwise seem like a maze of protocols and processes. I hope those who work with her recognize the rare opportunity they’ve had to watch, learn and carry on her brand of hospitality.”

Thomas said she’s a better person today because of the work that introduced her to the challenges and rewards of patient care. She shared frankly that she wasn’t always laser-focused on patients-first in those early days at OU Medical Center, but her perspective changed quickly and dramatically. “Oh, I was a nice person then, but now, I’m all about my patients. My reason for being here is simply to help them. I love what I do and truly, the decision to retire was not easy.”

She began her career at The Children’s Hospital, now Oklahoma Children’s Hospital OU Health, and worked in pediatric medicine for 30 years. The shift to adult services required her to adjust to operations in general, and physician preferences in particular. The approach and dynamic were completely different. But the bottom line for Thomas: each patient deserves the best care possible.

Director of Nursing, OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center, Amber Nealy, MSN, R.N., NE-BC, began working with Thomas in 2014 as Interim Director for Adult Endoscopy Services. Nealy remembers their first rounding conversation and recognized Thomas’ passion for patient care. “She always had ideas about how we could improve service delivery and we would regularly exchange ideas and discuss ways to improve patient care.”

Nealy said this willingness to share ideas was a catalyst that moved Adult Endoscopy Services from paper referrals to electronic management of records, partnering with central scheduling, automated appointment reminders, and the development of detailed patient prep brochures that improved the pre-procedure experience. Another result was overall improved access to the Endoscopy department.

Thomas was an influencer before it was a “thing.” Her realm of influence is creating a great patient experience, and she’s instrumental in helping her team reach the same goal to ensure the best possible customer service for every patient, every time. She said laughter and giggling occur frequently at her desk, where her duties in general are to make sure each patient has everything needed. This includes registration and scheduling, as well as necessary paperwork for their tests and procedures. “Many patients come in, unfamiliar and scared. Every patient deserves the best care. I don’t care who they are, where they’ve come from or why they are here – at my desk, they’re all equally special.”

Beyond her commitment to making her organization better and providing excellence in patient care, Nealy said Thomas genuinely cares for her co-workers. “I remember many years when she bought us all Christmas gifts, and if she sees something she thinks your kids would like, she often bought those things, too - bicycles, toys, clothes, new with tags still on them.”

Nealy also remembers Thomas’ annual train trip to visit siblings in California and her excitement when Amtrak opened the new route from Hutchinson, Kansas. “Cyvilla took the bus to Kansas, just to ride that train and see new parts of the countryside. But if she missed work for anything else, we knew something was wrong.”

Thomas said she has worked with great managers and staff and has seen first-hand the power of good leadership to create a positive environment for patients as well as employees. She is particularly mindful of the need for patience in training new employees. “When I train someone, I remember what it was like when I was a trainee.”

Thomas hopes the colleagues she leaves behind will continue to grow as excellent caregivers. Her legacy is an exceptional work ethic - showing up, owning up and staying up – with unwavering dedication to each patient’s individual concerns. She said one of the best routes to success is no secret or great mystery, but rather a simple matter of courtesy and consideration: “Whether you’re with a patient, a patient’s family member, or someone who seems lost, treat them the way you hope one of your own family members would be treated in a similar situation. If I am getting stressed, I do a 1-2-3:

  1. Breathe
  2. Relax
  3. Relate

“Think of something funny that happened with your kids or pets. And don’t take things personally. If a patient is angry let them vent, and when they’re finished, ask what you can do to help them. Maybe you’re on the phone or in person, but you’ll see a different attitude. They will thank you and remember you even when they are no longer coming to your work area.”

Her children and grandchildren are grown, and even the great-grandchildren are well on the way to living their own lives. In retirement, Thomas looks forward to ongoing opportunities to connect with them, being part of their lives and activities. “They are a great part of my life and they keep me young.”

Always active and on the go, a life of leisure is not what Thomas has in mind as a retiree. “I can only clean my house so many times,” she said. First and foremost, Thomas is interested in people and making positive contributions that matter in life. As pandemic-related restrictions are lifted, she wants to be an active volunteer at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital, rocking babies in the nursery as one way of giving back.

Her parting comments to others include encouragement to be always people-friendly, an imperative in any job that includes direct contact with people, whether patients in a healthcare setting or routine, day-to-day interactions. “I’ve enjoyed my 50 years here, the people and patients I’ve met, and I hope others will enjoy their work as much as I have. I truly believe God puts everyone in your life for a reason.”

Gose said, “While the position Cyvilla leaves may be filled by an exceptional employee, she is truly irreplaceable. Knowing Cyvilla, I have no doubt that she will find other ways and means to help people, and we wish her only the best.”

Nealy said she will miss Thomas’ infectious laugh and quick wit. “I’m grateful to have worked with Cyvilla, to have been a recipient of her generosity and ‘tough love.’ But I hope that she has many more train rides and trips in her next chapter. Happy Retirement, Cyvilla.”