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Unit Secretary at UAB Hospital-Highlands Celebrates 55 Years of Service at UAB Medicine

The annual UAB Medicine Service Awards recognize employees for years of faithful service and acknowledge the special contributions you make to our organization. Each employee plays an important role in meeting the growing needs of our community, and your service is deeply appreciated.

As part of this year’s recognition, Glenda Estell, unit secretary for Acute Care at UAB Hospital-Highlands, shared some of her experiences as one of UAB Medicine’s longest-serving employees. She started working at University Hospital 60 years ago in 1962. But a mere number doesn’t do justice to her long tenure, so some perspective is in order.

When Estell began working at what then was known as University Hospital, the groundbreaking ceremony for Spain Rehabilitation Center had just taken place. John F. Kennedy was in the White House, and a main topic of discussion that year was the Cuban Missile Crisis. John Glenn had just become the first American to orbit Earth. The Beatles released their first single, and Bob Dylan released his first album. Moviegoers flocked to theaters to see “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Lawrence of Arabia”. Everyone was watching the very first seasons of “The Beverly Hillbillies”, “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson”, “The Jetsons”, and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour”.

That was the backdrop for Estell when she started at University Hospital at the age of 18. “I took a job as a ward clerk on 14 West – that was what they called unit secretaries back then,” she says. “Today, that old hospital seems small compared to everything UAB has become, but it was big for me. I was there four years before taking another job here at UAB Hospital-Highlands in 1966, which at that time was known as the South Highlands Infirmary.”

Estell’s years of service with UAB Medicine began when she accepted the position at UAB Hospital-Highlands, which is why she received a 55-year Service Award.

Major Changes in Medicine
Estell’s reason for transferring gives even more perspective on her early career. “They offered me 10 cents more per hour,” she says. “That’s almost five dollars per week extra, which for me was worth going after in 1966. I’ve seen all the changes here, from it becoming HealthSouth in 1989 and UAB Hospital-Highlands after that. I’ve seen so much progress. The work I do now with a computer, gosh, all those tasks were done with pen and paper and file cards for my first 30 or more years. We used to have the iron lung for polio patients. Swine flu and German measles were very serious epidemics in the 1960s. Now we have to worry about COVID. I saw open heart surgery come along, then lung and heart transplants and cancer treatments. I remember watching the construction of Spain Rehab – now that building is coming down and I guess I’ll see the new one go up.”

Estell’s years of service included many major changes at UAB and beyond. For example, the month she transferred from University Hospital to South Highlands in 1966, UAB pioneer James Kirklin, MD, resigned his chair of the Mayo Clinic Department of Surgery and accepted the same position at what then was known as the University of Alabama School of Medicine. When The Kirklin Clinic opened its doors in 1992, Estell had been on the job for 30 years. It’s also notable that she started at UAB the same year that James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins earned the Nobel Prize in Physiology for discovering the molecular structure of DNA. Today, UAB Medicine is a leader in genomic medicine and DNA research.

It’s tempting to say that Estell has seen it all, but she has a humble view of her career. “Last October, I injured my hip helping someone move a bed, so I had to call in sick. It was the first time since 1975 that I had to miss work,” she recalls. “I was raised by my grandparents, and my granddaddy always said that you give a full day’s work to the man who’s paying you. But I have just loved my job here, and most of all I love the people here. I’ve made so many friends among my co-workers, and I’ve worked with so many wonderful doctors. I’m 78 years old now, so I will stay with it as long as I can.”