SKIP TO CONTENT

On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness news for all Oklahomans.

Highlighting INTEGRIS Health Frontline Nurses

Nurses are the backbone of health care and often serve as the first line of defense to help diagnose and manage patient care.

To mark national Nurses Week we spoke with INTEGRIS Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute nurses Torre Parcel-Bruce (kidney/pancreas transplant post-transplant coordinator), Kristi Seigrist (heart transplant coordinator) and INTEGRIS Mental Health Spencer inpatient nurse Jeana Gerner. They shared their stories of what it’s like working as a nurse, how COVID-19 impacted the nursing profession and the lessons they’ve learned in the past year.

Why are nurses so important?

The view of nurses has changed over the years. In earlier days of health care, nurses were misperceived as being caregivers who solely executed the doctor’s orders. Over time, the role of changing beds and taking vitals has evolved.

Generally, patients spend most of their time in a clinic or hospital setting with a nurse. A study from the American Journal of Medicine found ICU patients spent 86 percent of their time with nurses compared to 13 percent with doctors.

“I am proud to be a nurse because we are viewed as the ‘helpers’ who make things happen for our patients and provide care for people,” Seigrist says.

Nurses now play a key role in monitoring and coordinating patient care, assisting with diagnoses, discussing with the doctor which medications are needed and aiding in surgical procedures. They are also the first to respond in a critical situation.

“When it’s a time of emergency, we step up and perform to the best of our abilities and see how much the nurses and medical professionals play in everyday living,” Parcel-Bruce says.

For Gerner, this means the challenge of finding innovative and positive ways to provide the mental health care and compassion her patients need and deserve.

On any given day, nurses are tasked with making critical decisions regarding patient health. Seigrist, who coordinates the heart transplant unit, spends her day seeing patients in clinic, doing telephone triage, reviewing results and performing outpatient tasks for patients.

“We also take donor call, so we review donor offers and set up transplants when our team accepts an organ,” she says. “We provide education in the hospital for our patients going home after their transplants and set up and manage their complex care.”

Nurses’ role during COVID-19 pandemic

When COVID-19 cases rapidly increased in March 2020 and hospital rooms and ICU wings became crowded, the tasks nurses performed didn’t necessarily change, but their importance did. In a crisis, everything is amplified. 

Working in teams has been more critical than ever. The same can be said for personalized care. Luckily, nurses excel in this environment, bridging the gap between a patient and a doctor during a routine checkup or during a complex heart transplant.

While the work performed stayed constant, the emotions changed. As Seigrist notes, this was mainly due to patient loss.

“I have seen some miracles where our patients have left the hospital after an extended ICU stay, which is encouraging. However, the mortality rate for transplant patients is 20-25 percent, and we have experienced quite a bit of loss lately,” she says about heart transplant patients.

Of the changes COVID-19 brought, they were difficult but educational, according to Gerner. Again, this is nothing new for nurses, as Gerner says “we never stop learning or adjusting to become better.”

For example, nurses quickly learned how to always prioritize patient health and safety to avoid coronavirus infection. On transplant services, that meant being cautious with immunocompromised patients and ensuring exam rooms were cleaned and disinfected between patients.

Other times, that meant trying to connect with patients virtually instead of traditional in-office visits.

“For a while, we went to telehealth visits, which meant having to call patients and discuss everything over the phone. That was an obstacle for some patients,” Parcel-Bruce says.

Maintaining a work-life balance

A study of more than 10,000 health care workers from 2016 revealed poor work-life integration and burnout affect a significant portion of the workforce. This imbalance means health care workers are more likely to skip a meal, eat a poorly balanced meal, work through a shift without a break, arrive home late, have difficulty sleeping or have to alter personal plans due to work.

The solution is ensuring time to decompress from an often hectic work schedule.

“Maintaining a work-life balance is always a struggle,” Seigrist says. “Personally, I have found several things that I like to do that get me outside and into nature, such as hiking and kayaking. Taking the time to be in nature helps fill my cup.”

Gerner says she also enjoys outdoor activities such as kayaking and camping. She notes self-care hobbies are especially important for her considering being a nurse in mental health is a high-stress, and sometimes dangerous, field.

To hit the reset button, sometimes it’s as simple as listening to music or going for a walk. That’s what Parcel-Bruce does with her dogs and spouse to relax. “They have a tendency to just relax and calm everything and allow me to forget about what was going on at work,” she says.

Lessons learned during COVID-19

As Seigrist, Gerner and Parcel-Bruce look back on the past year, it’s clear how far the profession has evolved. Seigrist even went as far to say she’s learned how nurses are stronger and more resilient than ever before in history.

“We, as nurses, have made many sacrifices, seen a lot of sadness, witnessed a lot of miracles and we have given our all in providing excellent medical care to our patients,” she says.

With the unknowns of COVID-19, nurses relied on training and their surrounding teams. Not always being able to come up with solutions alone may seem dejecting, but Gerner says she learned you can’t fix everything by yourself.

“It’s always better to look for ways to improve and be proactive rather than reactive,” she says. “I have learned the best thing I can do is slow down and support our patients where they are, as well as our coworkers.”

Some of the learning experiences are more simplistic, such as living life to the fullest and taking each day as it comes. 

Frustration can easily sink in working in health care, but having understanding, kindness and grace all carry newfound importance for Seigrist.

As difficult as COVID-19 was for patients and those who treated them, the key takeaway is reinforcing why these nurses joined the profession in the first place — to proudly treat patients with compassion and empathy.

“I hope I never lose the attitude that ‘every patient is somebody’s child, parent or sibling,’” Gerner says. “I want to treat every patient like I want my family treated.”

 

To learn more about nursing careers at INTEGRIS Health, please visit our careers website.

 

Subscribe to the INTEGRIS Health On Your Health blog

Subscribe for regular emails full of useful and interesting Oklahoma-centric health and wellness info, from the doctors and health experts at INTEGRIS Health.

INTEGRIS Health Recognizes National Nurses Week

Introducing INTEGRIS Health University

Retired Respiratory Therapist Returns to Work After Personal Loss