Careers at UW Health

Evidence-based mentorship program

Evidence-based mentorship program

To help support new-to-practice nurses, Kelly O’Connor (pictured) created an evidence-based mentorship program on the Pediatric Medical/Surgical Unit at American Family Children’s Hospital.

In 2015, when Kelly O’Connor, BSN, RN, CPN, started working at American Family Children’s Hospital, she noticed some personal challenges.

“It was really difficult to transition from being a student nurse to a new-to-practice nurse,” Kelly said. “As a student, you receive a lot of support. As a new nurse, there is a gap period after orientation with your preceptor until you feel confident on your own. You may feel alone and don’t yet have those authentic connections with other nurses for support.”

Kelly thought it was just her, until she started seeing those same challenges with other new nurses.  

Knowing this may be more than a coincidence, Kelly did some research. It turns out, those common experiences of fear, disillusionment and overall stress felt by new-to-practice nurses are real and described as transition shock.

“I learned that transitioning into nursing is often traumatic, and new nurses may be fearful at work throughout their first year,” Kelly said.

She also found that there were distinct developmental stages that new-to-practice nurses went through, and that nurse mentorship programs helped ease those transitions.  

With her research in mind, Kelly approached Élise Arsenault Knudsen, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, nurse scientist who leads the Nursing Research and Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) Programs, about starting an EBP project focused on supporting new-to-practice nurses in her unit.

“To help retain new, bright nurses, we need to develop a culture that accepts and embraces them,” Kelly said. “A mentorship program is a first step in creating a positive loop: New nurses who are accepted, appreciated and guided will eventually offer the same acceptance, appreciation and guidance to new nurses who come after them.”

In 2022, Tessa Martin, BSN, RN, CPN, nurse manager of the Pediatric Medical/Surgical Unit where Kelly currently works, made the decision to include the mentorship program in the onboarding process for all new nurses on the unit. After the initial 14-week orientation where nurses are paired with a preceptor to learn the ropes, the new nurses are matched with an experienced frontline nurse mentor. For the next seven months, in addition to support on the unit, mentors and mentees meet outside of work for one hour each month to informally discuss any fears, concerns or highlights the new nurse wants to share.  

Furthermore, Kelly created mentorship resources and worked with Tessa to distribute information about the program to staff and nurse residents.

“In addition to the mentor/mentee relationships, we created a visual management board in our conference room that staff can reference at any time,” Tessa said. “We also posted the new nurse development stages that Kelly identified through her research and have our mentor/mentee pairs printed on cards to show their progress through the stages.”

“The mentorship program has become incredibly successful. Our job is really hard, and this program helps acknowledge those feelings and supports new graduates through those evidence-based struggles.”

Kelly O’Connor, BSN, RN, CPN

Check out more stories featuring the great work of our nurses in the 2022 Nursing Annual Report (pdf).

Supporting our communities, near and far

From orphanages and hospitals in Africa to breast cancer research and support for patients here at home, UW Health nurses are there for our communities near and far.

‘Mama Susan’s’ strong bonds in Africa

January 2023 marked the 20th year for Susan Gold, BSN, RN, ACRN, and her volunteering efforts with HIV/AIDS patients in Africa. In January, she brought the latest group, now totaling 122, of UW-Madison students who are interested in global health to Africa. They help teach the “Talking Health Out Loud” curriculum on sexuality and healthy relationships that Susan developed.

Susan Gold, BSN, RN, ACRN surrounded by Tanzanian children, who affectionately refer to her as “Mama Susan.”

Susan is the only clinical nurse to have won a Fulbright Grant, a Washington Mandela Fellowship and a national Magnet Nurse of the Year Award. She said her Tanzanian patients have many questions about HIV treatments and are curious about the different treatments available in the United States.

“Being a nurse gives you credibility,” she said, “as does being trained in patient education in the UW Health HIV/AIDS Clinic.”

Susan retired from her full-time work in the UW Health HIV/AIDS Clinic but continues to work as a per-diem nurse. Her nursing achievements are more amazing considering she didn’t earn her nursing degree until the week she turned 40. She was busy raising three children and it took her more than five years to graduate, although she did graduate top in her class.

“I think being a UW Health nurse is an honor and being able to represent the UW School of Nursing all over the world is a big honor,” she said. “I so strongly believe in the Wisconsin Idea and that the education you get from the school could benefit the whole world. You have knowledge that can save lives everywhere.”

The African connection started when she and her husband, Tim, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. “The guides knew I was a nurse and said, ‘Come back and help our people,’ ’’ she said. “And when I came down off that mountain, I knew I could do anything.”

Susan first started working with AIDS orphans in Kenya. As they lived into adulthood as HIV-positive people, she saw the need for the sexuality education curriculum she developed. Her work moved to Tanzania as the security situation in Kenya worsened.

Over the years, she’s watched proudly as the global health students she’s introduced to Africa have gone on to earn degrees and become nurses, physicians, physician assistants, therapists and public health professionals. She was even able to introduce some of her grown children and grandchildren to Tanzania, where she is known as “Mama Susan.”

All heart in Rwanda

A group of nurses on the Cardiothoracic Surgery and Transplant Unit also have a strong bond with Africa after traveling to Rwanda as part of Team Heart. This volunteer group was founded by a Boston nurse who visited Rwanda and found a hospital ward full of young people whose hearts had been damaged when untreated strep throat progressed to rheumatic fever and heart valve damage. The group has been going to Rwanda to perform heart surgery since 2008.

Recently, though, the focus has shifted to building sustainable cardiac care in Rwanda, and that is where the cardiothoracic nurses come in. Nurses Alexa Callahan, BSN, RN; Mikayla Kohls, BSN, RN; and Bella Penniston, BSN, RN, have all traveled to King Faisal Hospital in Kigali to teach their Rwandan colleagues the fine points of caring for patients following heart surgery. Bella said she did international nursing work in India as a student and was thrilled to have the chance to go to Africa.

“The biggest difference is how young the patients are,’’ Bella said, noting that she was caring for teenagers with heart issues in Kigali, compared with the retirement-aged patients more common in Madison. She also enjoys working with Team Heart members from as far away as Iceland and Australia, noting that despite their different backgrounds, “health care is a universal language.”

Alexa Callahan, BSN, RN, (center) with fellow Rwandan and UW Health colleagues and some of the patients they cared for. The patients are given “Team Heart” pillows as part of their healing from a sternotomy and encouraged to use the pillows to splint for when they need to cough or sneeze, and as reminders to not use their arms when getting up from the chair, or bed. The pillows also feature a cartoon anatomical heart on the other side so nurses can show the patients which valves were fixed during their operations.

“Our role is to be mentors and to foster education for Rwandan nurses,’’ said Alexa, winner of a 2022 Nurse Excellence Award. “We’re teaching them the nuances of taking care of patients post cardiac surgery, and how to recognize the little signs that tell you if a patient is doing well or not.”

All the teaching is done at the bedside, and sometimes, the differences in resources are jarring. Alexa saw shoelaces being used to keep breathing tubes in place, and ventilator tubes being sterilized and reused. Rwandan nurses have to mix their own infusion medications.

“It’s very bare bones, with much fewer resources,’’ she said. “But the Rwandan nurses are so smart and so eager to learn. They are very passionate about cardiac care.”

Spreading cheer locally

Michelle Hornung, BSN, RN, uses her flair for beauty to help support breast cancer research at the UW Health Breast Center.

“Paying it forward always feels great,’’ said Michelle, who uses her Crazy Daisy Instagram feed to promote breast cancer awareness. A breast cancer survivor herself, Hornung was touched when her chemo clinic nurses gave her a “Nurses Inspire Nurses” T-shirt.

When she returned to work after treatment, Michelle bought the shirts for her fellow nurses on her unit. “This is our way of spreading cheer to other nurses, who are human first and nurses second,’’ she said. “We are family.”

Michelle Hornung serves as a nurse navigator in the UW Health Breast Center and has a side business called the Crazy Daisy Flower Truck. Hornung has donated flower truck experiences to the Wine, Women and Shoes Breast Center fundraiser and a “Build-a-Bouquet for Breast Cancer” to an event called Cocktails, Bouquets & Komen.

Check out more stories featuring the great work of our nurses in the 2022 Nursing Annual Report (pdf).

Sharpening our nursing strategic focus

Finalizing our nursing strategic plan in 2022 was an exciting milestone: We solidified our six areas of strategic focus that we are proudly introducing below. These areas serve as the foundation for the work we’ve already started and the exciting work that will continue for the next three to five years. Our efforts are directly connected to the UW Health Nursing vision: To serve as remarkable and trusted national leaders in nursing — every day.

To effectively move our work forward, we identified and prioritized two of these areas to serve as our main pillars: “Promote a culture of well-being” and “Attract and retain a talented workforce.” The first addresses the importance of seeing our nurses as humans first, and nurses second, thereby providing them with the self-care resources they need to be at their best, personally and professionally. Additionally, we continue to implement innovative strategies to attract and retain the best and brightest nurses to help address the national shortage and alleviate the staffing strain on our nurses. These two pillars are vital to sustaining a healthy and high-functioning nursing workforce, and therefore, support all other areas of strategic focus and help drive all work forward.

Promote a culture of well-being
Nurses must prioritize their own well-being to provide exceptional care to our patients. We will develop tactics and strategies to positively influence the holistic well-being of nurses throughout UW Health by creating an inclusive culture that supports and optimizes their emotional and physical health throughout their careers.

Attract and retain a talented workforce
The global workforce shortage has stressed the nursing profession. We will use innovative approaches to recruit new nurses and retain a highly skilled nursing workforce.

Elevate nurse influence  
The voices of individual nurses and the collective nursing workforce have significant influence on the care provided to UW Health patients. Through the continued empowerment of our nurses, their influence will be elevated to positively impact patient outcomes and organizational decisions while increasing respect within care teams. 

Enhance professional development 
The nursing profession is a journey of continuous growth and development. UW Health nursing will enhance professional development opportunities to help our nurses remain astute to advancements in science and practice.

Expand health literacy  
Patients should feel they are partners with UW Health and nurses throughout their health care experiences. We are committed to improving the degree to which patients feel empowered to find, understand, and use information and services that help them make informed health-related decisions. 

Influence nursing practice nationally
Nurses within a Magnet institution ask questions, advance the science of nursing and disseminate work broadly. UW Health nursing will optimize opportunities for nurses to fully live UW Health’s Nursing vision: To serve as remarkable and trusted national leaders in nursing — every day.

We look forward to working together — with nurses across UW Health — to continue advancing our professional nursing practice and strategic plan. Stay tuned for future updates on our progress and the details of this important work.

Rudy Jackson, Chief Nurse Executive
Nicole Kalscheur, Chief Nursing Officer, East Madison Hospital
Michele McClure, Chief Nursing Officer, University Hospital
Anne Mork, Chief Nursing Officer, Ambulatory and Nursing Care Services
Luke Sticht, Chief Nursing Officer, American Family Children’s Hospital
Becky Kohler, Chief Nursing Information Officer
Sarah Brzozowski, Director, Magnet and Nurse Excellence

Check out more stories featuring the great work of our nurses in the 2022 Nursing Annual Report (pdf).

Leading, supporting and partnering with RNs

One way that nursing leaders work with RNs is through regular rounding to units and clinics. This allows leaders to check in with nursing teams, have meaningful discussions with RNs on top-of-mind issues, listen to concerns and ideas, and work with nurses to initiate solutions.

The essence of a leader is to serve as a visionary while providing guidance, support and the tools employees need to thrive. That’s why the nursing leadership structure at UW Health is designed to provide RNs with local support while promoting a culture of accessibility to all nursing leaders and transparency in communication.

Working with RNs to address important issues

Through the UW Health Nursing Shared Governance Council structure, nursing leaders attend system-level council meetings to provide executive support to each council and help move work forward, whenever needed. Two prime examples from 2022 pertain to the ever-hot topic of staffing:

  • Short- and long-term staffing solutions
    At the peak of the RN staffing crisis, executive nursing leaders quickly launched an Internal Traveler Program to leverage talent from within the organization to fill shifts, with additional pay incentives. Although the program was successful in filling 90% of open shifts, it was a short-term solution due to the financial strain on the organization. To work toward a more sustainable solution, leaders engaged the Nurse Staffing and Operations Council and other direct care RNs to gain insight on what might work best.

    “The RN input we received was extremely insightful and helped us arrive at a long-term solution,” said Rudy Jackson, chief nurse executive.

    The result was a phased staffing plan involving four phases based on need (normal, urgent, critical or crisis), with relative incentive pay per phase and shorter shift-length options. While staffing issues still exist, leaders continue to work with nurses on ways to address them.
  • Advocating for nurses and all staff
    When the Flexing Staff to Work Volumes Policy went into effect in 2019, it established a process for instances when employees were reassigned or required to take time off, with or without pay, when staffing adjustments were needed based on patient volume and/or department workload. At that time, there was no cap on the number of hours an employee could be “flexed down,” which was a huge dissatisfier. Through robust collaboration with the Staffing and Operations Council and Betsy Clough, chief human resources officer, Rudy was able to advocate for employees across the organization to reduce the number of hours any employee could be flexed annually from 208 to 60 per year. The updated policy went into effect in July 2022.

Support at every level: Defining nursing leader roles

Aniqueka Scott, MPH, BSN, RN, has always had an interest in learning more about different nursing leader roles. So, when she decided to pursue her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, she explored the various levels of leadership through a DNP in Systems Leadership and Innovation practicum.

“This was a unique opportunity for me to evaluate leadership at various levels, see how they differ and how they interact with, support and complement each other,” said Aniqueka, who works on the Family Practice and Forensics Unit at University Hospital.

Through contact with UW Health leaders in meetings, steering committees and workgroups, Aniqueka learned about the oversight responsibility for each role and how it supports nurses.

  • Nurse manager: Unit leader who provides oversight for a unit’s nursing operations and transitional care
  • Nursing director: Oversees nurse managers and provides operational oversight of multiple units/areas or provides guidance for a particular area such as infection control
  • Leader through influence: Oversees departments that support nursing and influence nursing outcomes such as education, quality/safety/infection control and shared governance
  • Chief nursing officer (CNO): Provides oversight of a designated facility or services, and the respective nursing or clinic operations directors
  • Chief nurse executive: Oversees CNOs and leads strategic organizational changes, including nursing and other departments

Aniqueka recognized two common threads among UW Health leadership roles: A genuine sense of concern for RNs on the frontline and a commitment to serving as mentors. “Not only do these leaders want to share their knowledge, they care what nurses have to say and want to support their roles in any way possible.”

As part of a DNP practicum, Aniqueka Scott, MPH, BSN, RN (left), met with leaders on varying levels, including Chief Nurse Executive Rudy Jackson (right), to gain insight into their daily responsibilities and how they help support nurses. “I wish more nurses could get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of nursing leadership roles and see the hard work involved in maintaining effective nursing operations,” Aniqueka said. “You quickly gain an understanding and appreciation for the processes and barriers they face.”

Cultivating professional growth

When Aniqueka and Josh Ernst, BSN, RN, pursued their DNP degrees, they experienced the leadership culture from a new lens.

“UW Health nurse leaders have provided me with substantial support throughout my doctorate studies,” said Josh, who serves as a clinical program coordinator for the Telestroke Program. “With this experience, I learned from various leaders within the organization, and I will take their advice with me wherever I go.”

In one of Josh’s practicums, Melanie Hankes, BSN, RN, nurse manager, UW Health East Madison Hospital Emergency Department, showed him how to overcome unique department challenges by coming up with creative and innovative solutions. “Teamwork is essential and expectations are high,” he continued. “There is always a sustained commitment to our patients, staff and the community. It is nothing short of inspiring.”

What stands out most for Aniqueka is having leaders who believe in her.

“They see my potential, and no one has ever made me feel I was reaching too high or dreaming too big,” she said. “I’ve been supported by every leader I’ve interacted with, confirming my decision to get my DNP.”

Aniqueka said she’s received the same advice from many leaders: Stay curious and keep asking questions. One takeaway came to light when she saw the work that went into establishing the Internal Discharge Lounge that was quickly operationalized by nurses and nursing leaders to help free up inpatient beds.

“I’ll never forget when Michele McClure (chief nursing officer for University Hospital) said, ‘Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress. We didn’t get it perfect, but we were off to a good start,’” Aniqueka said. “That realistic approach — acknowledging the need to evolve — really stuck with me.”

Another notable moment was seeing the humility of the leaders.

“They are down-to-earth and want to hear from frontline nurses to learn how best to support them,” Aniqueka said. “It’s all about teamwork and willingness to have conversations to try and make things better for everyone.”

Josh Ernst, BSN, RN, and Aniqueka Scott, MPH, BSN, RN, experienced unwavering support from UW Health nursing leaders in 2022 when they decided to pursue their DNP degrees

Check out more stories featuring the great work of our nurses in the 2022 Nursing Annual Report (pdf).

Burn RNs transcend unprecedented volume with team support

Burn nurses perform a wide array of care for patients with small and large burns, which speaks volumes to their clinical acumen. Pictured: Nurses Malia Yang, BSN, RN (left) and Yishi Wang, BSN, RN, work together to place a Jobst compression stocking on a burn patient’s leg to help promote blood flow to the damaged skin.

In Summer 2022, the Burn Intensive Care Unit (ICU) saw an unusually high number of large burn cases, 13 in total, which is almost unheard of, according to Luke Markus, BSN, RN, burn unit care team leader (CTL).

“To apply some perspective, over the last three years, our 11-bed ICU has cared for an average of 16 large burns, adult and pediatric, in a given year,” Luke said. “The reason this is notable is because when a patient is considered a large burn — 20% or greater of their body is burned — they need highly specialized care during their stay, with an emphasis on the first 24–48 hours, which is performed by the burn unit nurses.”

Luke explained that in those first critical hours, the priority is not standard wound care — burn nurses are monitoring the patient’s urine output and increasing or decreasing the patient’s intravenous fluids because the kidneys could shut down without proper fluid management. In addition, a high protein and high calorie diet is an essential building block to wound healing and because large burn patients cannot physically eat enough calories to heal their burn, a feeding tube provides what they need.

“We all rally together to support the nurses who are assigned the large burn cases,” said Naomi Staton, BSN, RN, burn unit CTL. “It was very tough this summer — so much wound care, so many sick patients, and not enough burn nurses.”

That’s where collaboration was vital.

The burn unit nurses joined forces, with many — if not all — units throughout University Hospital and American Family Children’s Hospital, as well as the Emergency Department. According to Luke, some patients are moved to the Trauma and Life Support Center or Pediatric Intensive Care Unit due to specialized care needs, with burn nurses still performing the patient’s wound care every day, sometimes twice day.

“What’s incredible is that burn nurses can be seen throughout the hospital performing wound care on non-burn patients as well,” Luke said. “The provider burn team is asked to help manage a wide array of wounds and the burn nurses complete the care, which speaks volumes to their clinical acumen.”

Burn unit nurse Britney Hanko, BSN, RN, greatly values the partnership in these instances.

“To collaborate with other nurses throughout our system is special, and working with them during stressful times like the summer of 2022 builds relationships that last years,” Britney said.

That camaraderie, creativity and collaboration among the burn nurses and interdisciplinary teams of physicians, advanced practice providers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, nursing education specialists and clinical nurse specialists has resulted in positive outcomes for our patients. This was validated by the re-designation of the UW Health Burn Center in 2022 as an Adult and Pediatric Verified Burn Center by the American Burn Association and American College of Surgeons.

The work our burn nurses do every day is truly remarkable.

Burn unit nurses starting their shift receive an update from the care team leader on the status of current patients to determine where extra nursing support might be needed.

Check out more stories featuring the great work of our nurses in the 2022 Nursing Annual Report (pdf).

Learning to speak the same DEI language

It is essential that every patient who enters a UW Health hospital or clinic feels that they’re in a diverse and inclusive environment that fully supports their care and healing journey.

The same holds true for employees: Feeling confident that their work environment is supportive allows them to thrive and provide the best care possible.

To build on our commitment to becoming a diverse, inclusive, and antiracist organization, UW Health has made it a priority to embed diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as a foundational competency and strategic priority throughout the organization.

In 2022, a group of our nursing leaders collaborated with the DEI department to present a customized learning session for all nursing leaders. Entitled “DEI Tools Supporting Through Lived Experiences,” 22 directors and four chief nursing officers attended a half-day learning session while 73 nurse managers attended a day-long retreat.

“As nurses, we’re trained on a lot of things. It’s easy for us to talk to people about changes in health care, the newest vaccine or a new workflow, but for most people, it’s not so easy to talk about DEI,” said Lea Veltum, RN, General Internal Medicine Clinic Manager at 20 S Park St Clinic and 1102 S Park St Clinic.

She proposed DEI be the focus of the Nurse Manager Monthly Retreat. “Our hope was that more nurse managers would be comfortable integrating DEI learning with their nurses on a regular basis so that it becomes a core competency and part of how we talk about the strategic plan,” Lea said.

The learning sessions centered around DEI principles that are the foundation of the UW Health vision to be a leader in actively dismantling racism in ourselves, in our system and in our community. They included facilitated, small group discussions based on the real-life experiences of UW Health employees.

The nurses were coached on how to respond when an employee experiences a racial microaggression by using the LEADER Perspective: Listen and validate, express empathy and acknowledge harm, ask the employee what they need, do recognize the cumulative impact, ensure an antiracist and inclusive workplace and reach out to the DEI and Performance Management teams.

“I think for many it was very eye-opening. It was great to have difficult discussions and learning opportunities in a safe space,” said Tracey Abitz, DNP, RN, CTN-B, University Hospital director of specialty nursing services. “Intention does not equal impact—microaggressions are too common, but they can be interrupted. As leaders, we need to help change the language and the culture. Learning to speak the same language is helpful for leadership and transparency with our teams.”

In addition to DEI learning and professional development resources, the DEI department provides support to leaders who are looking for resources and tools to help their employees navigate concerns. The department also serves as a resource for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and/or LGBTQ+ providers and staff to share their experiences at work.

“It’s so wonderful and supportive to have a resource like the DEI team,” Lea said. “Now managers can say, ‘I sat in that learning session, I know who to go to. I don’t need to react to this or solve this problem instantly. I can loop in other people and make sure that we do this right instead of just doing this fast’.”

Check out more stories featuring the great work of our nurses in the 2022 Nursing Annual Report (pdf).

New ways to support patients and staff at East Madison Hospital

When nurse manager Kristen Stine, MS, RN, ACNS-BC, was thinking about ways to improve patient care and employee morale on the 4th floor Medical Surgical Unit at East Madison Hospital, she knew exactly what to do: Empower the nurses to help move the needle.

5-minute huddle leads to big changes

As part of UW Health Way leader training, Kristen learned about PICK huddles and brought the idea to the unit council in Summer 2021.

“PICK stands for possible, implement, challenge or kibosh, and the huddles provide an opportunity for frontline staff to impact their practice and their unit, and to really own the process,” she said.

Unit council leader Kelli Susee, ADN, RN, played an active role in implementing and championing the huddles on the unit, which gained traction and results in 2022.

Anyone who works on the unit is welcome to submit an idea card that describes a problem or opportunity, the idea for improvement, expected benefits and results, and the stakeholders (including patients and families) who should be consulted for feedback or to implement the change.

Ideas are reviewed at the PICK huddle held every Friday at 7 a.m. to allow both night and day shift staff to participate. Each huddle is led by a unit council member and decisions by huddle participants are based on the level of effort/resources needed and the expected impact. Suggestions requiring low effort with high impact easily fall under “implement.”

Those defined as “possible” require little effort but are low impact while “challenge” means high effort and high impact. Recommendations under “kibosh” typically fall outside the nursing council’s scope.

Ideas from the PICK huddle that have been implemented include working with Post-Anesthesia Care Unit nurses to improve medication management for patients who are transferred to the unit after surgery; using secure chat to improve communication efficiency with colleagues from imaging to schedule appointments for patients; and moving intravenous fluids from central supply to the pharmacy so they are easier to access.

Some ideas such as making a public announcement about the end of visiting hours were easier to implement. Updating the phone list took a great amount of time but both Kelli and Kristen said it was well worth the effort.

In addition to vetting ideas for patient care improvement, PICK huddles have also become a space to share recognition such as positive patient feedback, DAISY Award nominations for nurses, Sunshine Award nominations for nursing assistants, Hi-5s from colleagues and colleagues’ birthdays.

“PICK huddles are a constructive place to give feedback. It’s a great outlet for people to voice their concerns, and staff and providers can see the great work that’s being done because we post a list of what’s been completed,” Kelli said. “It was a big transition, but everyone really embraces the huddle now and it’s just so much fun. It seems like this should be on every unit.”

PICK huddles (possible, implement, challenge or kibosh) provide an opportunity for frontline staff to impact their practice and own the process, according to nurse manager Kristen Stine. The unit council introduced the huddles on the Medical Surgical Unit at East Madison Hospital, which gained traction in 2022.

Care team leader rounding improves satisfaction

Elevating the role of care team leaders (CTLs) on the 4th floor Medical Surgical Unit at East Madison Hospital has had an exceptionally positive impact on patients and employees.

“I want to empower people at the bedside to make decisions in the moment and be proactive. This impacts quality outcomes and patient satisfaction, as well as staff satisfaction,” said Kristen. “We are a growing hospital, so this was also a way to start succession planning and build leadership skills to ensure that staff members have opportunities to grow professionally when they’re ready.”

The hiring of a house supervisor a year ago to maintain the inpatient nursing operations of the hospital meant that CTLs such as Eden Larson, BSN, RN-BC, had more time for patients and staff. CTLs on the unit now round on patients each shift, something Eden says has made a world of difference.

“CTL rounding with the patients is a great way for us to support our nurses. They can see that we’re more available to them, and it’s a positive change for patients,” Eden said. “When a patient who’s had a dissatisfying experience can feel that they’ve been heard, it changes their outlook on their stay. And the nurse doesn’t have to feel alone when they have another person who can talk to the patient, really listen to them and address their concerns.”

Eden and Kristen feel a renewed sense of teamwork on the unit. “People really enjoy coming to work and say this is their work family,” Eden said. “Medical surgical nursing is not easy and most people don’t stay in this field for very long. I’ve been here for six years and I just love the people I work with. Morale has improved over the last year. People smile a lot.”

CTLs on the unit worked with the nurse manager and clinical nurse specialist to develop a standard set of questions for rounding based on patient satisfaction metrics. Since they began rounding in July 2022, there has been a dramatic increase in their top box scores:

  • General hospital satisfaction rating increased from the 86th to the 93rd percentile
  • “Staff worked together to care for you” rating increased from the 74th to the 92nd percentile
  • “Response to complaints” rating increased from the 88th to 92nd percentile.

When asked about the increase in the scores, Eden said, “I think it was a little unbelievable. I initially thought it was wrong, and that it had to be a different unit.”

Kristen said, “It’s a validation that we’re doing something right and it just keeps pushing us forward.”

As a way to elevate the role of the care team leader (CTL), CTLs began rounding on the Medical Surgical Unit at East Madison Hospital. CTL Eden Larson, BSN, RN-BC (pictured with a patient), says the support CTLs provide has been a great satisfier for nurses and patients alike.

Check out more stories featuring the great work of our nurses in the 2022 Nursing Annual Report (pdf).

Blazing trails in clinical research

As she began nursing school, it never dawned on Tamara Kempken Mehring, MSN, RN, CNS-BC, that her future would be in clinical research.

“I fell into the world of clinical research nursing, as did most of my colleagues,” she said.

Decades later, Tamara is blazing trails as a leader in her field, confident she made the right choice. “There is a reason I ended up on this path — it’s been extremely rewarding,” she said.

For the past eight years, Tamara has been the clinical nurse specialist (CNS) on the Clinical Research Unit (CRU) at University Hospital. She leads a team through research protocol implementation while supporting the conduct of safe, ethical, compliant and high-quality clinical research at UW Health.

Tamara disseminates best practices as she fosters the specialty practice of clinical research nursing.

Each day brings new opportunities and appreciation

Tamara Kempken Mehring,

“Much of my role is operationalizing a clinical research protocol in the clinical setting,” Tamara said. “Education and training are a significant part of my day-to-day, supporting nurses and other research professionals to be able to ensure fidelity to the research protocol while providing remarkable care to our patients.”

One moment she might be working with CRU nurses caring for patients, the next she’s collaborating with the interdisciplinary research team during the protocol implementation process.

Jessica Branson, CNS manager, says Tamara’s expertise in bridging the gap between clinical work and research helps both worlds better understand one another.

“It allows us to successfully provide a multitude and variety of studies to our patients on and off the Clinical Research Unit,” Jessica said.

“Tamara’s dedication to her unit, practice and profession is evident in everything she does,” said Tammy Kiger, MSN, RN, nurse manager.

“She heightens the visibility of clinical research nursing at University Hospital and has earned the respect of national and international colleagues through her incredible contributions.”

Collaboration and outcomes

The variety of work and collaboration with clinicians, researchers and patients keeps Tamara engaged and inspired.

“If we don’t carry out research protocols accurately, and ensure protections for human subjects, new treatments will not make it to market — new discoveries may not be made,” she said.

This was evident during the early days of the pandemic, when there weren’t standard-of-care vaccines or treatments for COVID-19. “We only had research and clinical trials. Today we have approved vaccines and treatments,” she said.

Being on that clinical research path was something Tamara never would have predicted, but it’s the trail she’s grateful to walk every day.

Tamara was recognized by the International Association of Clinical Research Nurses as the 2022 Distinguished Clinical Research Nurse Award recipient. The award placed Tamara among other leaders in clinical research nursing and acknowledged the impact she makes on a global level — which is even more remarkable.

Check out more stories featuring the great work of our nurses in the 2022 Nursing Annual Report (pdf).

One nurse’s ‘crazy’ journey to sisterhood — and a dream job

Michelle Hornung and her “Crazy Daisy Flower Truck.”

Michelle Hornung, BSN, RN, was looking for a creative outlet after working long hours as a trauma nurse. She found it online in Huntington Beach, Calif.: A 1969 Volkswagen Transporter that an old hippie used to haul surfboards to the beach. Picture a vintage VW van with its roof removed.

Her husband and father-in-law modified it so she could fill the rear with buckets of locally grown flowers, and the Crazy Daisy flower truck was born.

Michelle and Crazy Daisy became a bright spot at the Sun Prairie Farmers Market, and at local celebrations, where she offered a “build-your-own-bouquet” experience for bridesmaids, baby showers and corporate events.

Michelle Hornung, BSN, RN

“It was exactly the respite I needed from the trauma unit,’’ Michelle said. But funny thing, the flower truck eventually became a vehicle for sharing a breast cancer journey that would drive her to a new calling: Nurse navigator in the UW Health Breast Center.

First, a word on the truck’s name. Michelle’s team on the trauma unit already called her “Daisy” because of the amazing number of nominations she has received over the years for the DAISY Award that recognizes exceptional nurses.

“To date, I’ve had 20 nominations and one win,’’ she said. “And every one of them means the world to me, because they come from patients and families of patients.”

Michelle was 41, and had no family history of breast cancer, so when she found a lump in her right breast, she assumed it was a cyst. A mammogram, followed by an ultrasound and biopsy, revealed instead that she had Stage 2B triple-negative breast cancer.

“Never in a million years did I think I would be on this side of the hospital bed,’’ Michelle told her followers on Crazy Daisy’s Instagram and Facebook pages. Michelle said she initially shared her diagnosis on social media to let the flower truck’s fans know why she was canceling public appearances.

But she continued to share: her biopsy results, her chemo infusions, her lumpectomy and the day she had her head shaved. Some of her posts were brutally honest: crying ugly tears, struggling through brain fog and being plagued with the lingering taste of onions from the chemo. Others were funny. She dubbed her final eyelash “Lorraine the Lash,’’ a “tough old bird” who hung on long after all her other lashes fell out. And she showed off the daisy caps, T-shirts and goofy chipmunk costumes her nurse colleagues wore to cheer her up.

Michelle shares a sisterhood with her chemotherapy nurses, Laura Stolen, BSN, RN (left), and Carly Stuessy, BSN, RN (right), who gave her a “Nurses Inspire Nurses” T-shirt. It touched her so much that she bought shirts for her nursing teammates to bring the love full circle.

For some on social media, this was too much information.

“It was interesting to see how many followers I lost — and how many I gained,’’ Michelle said. As some flower fanciers faded away, she gained a new following among women with breast cancer. They’d direct message her for advice and ask about coming to UW Health from as far away as North Carolina for a second opinion.

“I learned that breast cancer is a sisterhood,’’ she said. When Michelle rang the bell in radiation oncology to signal the end of her own treatment, she was surprised by how sad she felt. “I had such a bond with my team when I was fighting cancer,’’ she said. “And I was left with this uneasiness, this feeling of, ‘Now what?’ “

The answer arrived three months later when the Breast Center posted an opening for a nurse navigator. While Michelle said she was blessed with an “all-star team” and great support, she saw ways the system could be more approachable for breast cancer patients.

“When this position was posted, I knew at that moment: This is my dream job,’’ she said. “Once you’ve been through breast cancer, you want to do ten-fold to help the next person.”

Check out more stories featuring the great work of our nurses in the 2022 Nursing Annual Report (pdf).

Growing the nursing workforce

Like most health care organizations, UW Health continues to be challenged by a nationwide nursing shortage. Addressing the shortage, however, is not just a near-term objective but a long-term goal as well. Taking a proactive stance, UW Health has created new, innovative programs designed to both grow and diversify our nursing workforce while creating new pathways for career advancement and professional growth.

Befitting the reputation UW Health nurses have as national leaders, a first-of-its-kind Nurse Apprenticeship Program was recently launched. Funded by a generous seed gift from Verona-based Epic, this innovative program creates pathways to employment, training and advancement to join the nursing profession. Local community partnerships, educational support and a focus on diversity are all part of this effort to grow our nursing workforce.

The first cohort for this program will pull from selected UW Health entry-level clinical staff such as certified medical assistants (CMA) and certified nursing assistants (CNA), with future cohorts including external candidates to help grow our overall workforce.

“This Nurse Apprenticeship Program offers a comprehensive growth pathway like nothing we have ever seen before,” said Anne Mork, MS, MHCDS, RN, chief nursing officer, ambulatory and nursing support services. “We are excited to start opening the doors to employees who have wanted to pursue a career in nursing but could not afford it or take the necessary time away from work for their schooling. This Nurse Apprenticeship Program lets them work while they learn, covering all education expenses. It helps foster a culture of learning, support and professional growth by offering wrap-around support as necessary.”

August 2023 marked an exciting milestone as UW Health welcomed its inaugural cohort of RN apprentices.

ADN to BSN career path

In addition to increasing the number of ADN RNs through the Nurse Apprenticeship Program, UW Health offers an ADN to BSN (Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing) career path through a partnership with UW-Madison School of Nursing.

The first cohort of six ADN nurses was enrolled in Spring 2023, with an additional 50 ADN spots set aside for the Fall 2023 semester.

Funding limitations preclude every UW Health employee who wishes to participate from being accepted for enrollment. Accordingly, ADNs from inpatient and ambulatory units with the highest number of ADNs will be among the first ones invited to apply for enrollment in the ADN to BSN career path.

“Regardless of degree or title, every employee who interacts with patients is essential to ensuring outstanding patient care,” Mork said. “At the same time, the literature shows that health care systems with greater numbers of BSN prepared nurses have been shown to have better patient outcomes. BSN educated nurses are also better positioned for leadership, teaching and quality improvement opportunities. The Magnet organization endorses the Institute of Medicine’s 80% BSN recommendation for nursing and has set up the program to drive organizations to reaching and maintaining that threshold.”

Community partners making a difference

Karina Rohrer-Meck, a nurse and clinical information leader at Epic, said her company is pleased to help UW Health champion new solutions to challenges such as the nursing shortage.

“UW Health and the University of Wisconsin have a long tradition of serving as beacons of support, advancement and excellence in our community, and innovative programs like these build on that tradition,” Rohrer-Meck said. “We are happy to help them champion new solutions to such important challenges.”

Check out more stories featuring the great work of our nurses in the 2022 Nursing Annual Report (pdf).