Carrying the Torch for Patient Care

Three Cincinnati Children’s nurses receive University of Cincinnati’s highest nursing honor.

The University of Cincinnati College of Nursing has recognized outstanding nurses in the region for 30 years with the Florence Nightingale Awards for Excellence in Nursing, renamed this year as the Torch of Excellence Nursing Awards. Three of the six individual award recipients were Cincinnati Children’s nurses.

A Light in the World of Pediatric Nursing: Deneshia Smith, BSN, RN

Deneshia Smith has a keen sense for anticipating needs in those around her, even when they can’t articulate it, and she jumps into action. The Specialty Resource Unit (SRU) charge nurse is known as a listening ear and inspiration to her colleagues, serving as a Peer2Peer, providing emotional support to staff who have experienced difficult clinical situations. She is also an advocate for her patients, making sure the families understand the situation and are heard by the care team.

“I guess it’s just how I was raised. My parents were that way,” Smith said. “They’re always there to support and be a lending hand for anyone.”

She has offered her “lending hand” in many areas, from her role as charge nurse for the COVID-19 vaccine clinic, to serving as a radiology transport nurse on the SRU Radiology team, a Cardiac Intensive Care Unit root cause analysis member for situational awareness, leading as co-coordinator of The African American Professional Advisory Council and serving on the Patient Services Diversity Collaborative. To even be considered for the SRU charge role, a nurse must be fully trained in intensive care units, the Emergency Department, general care, and be capable of opening a unit with just minutes notice.

She volunteered to support the vaccine clinic in early March 2021 and continued to work extra hours to make sure it remained up and running.

“It was a blessing to be able to be a part of that and to actually witness how excited the kids were to be a part of the change and to be recognized, to know that they’re doing something big to hopefully let the world be back open. To show adults that, as a kid, I can do this,” she said. “It was a big step for me to be part of this big outpouring situation for the hospital for the communities. Just an outpouring of people to come and actually get vaccinated. And for me to actually do it and show that I can make a change and a difference.”

Smith’s leaders and fellow nurses attest that she is indeed doing just that. As Jacqueline Yeazel, BSN, RN II, CPN, put it, “Deneshia is the nurse you want at your bedside, your child’s bedside, on your worst days.”

Rebecca Trotta, RN II, SRU, explained it another way. “She is a light in the world of pediatric nursing.”

Watch Deneshia and her natural ability to connect with patients in this video at the COVID-19 vaccine clinic.

Patients and Families FIRST: Abbi John, BSN, RN

The Functional Independence Restoration, or FIRST, Program is an inpatient intensive interdisciplinary pain treatment program for pediatric patients with chronic pain. It is only one of a handful of programs of its kind in the world and is a destination program for children and families who are desperately looking to help their children with severely disabling pain conditions.

Abbi John is the program nurse coordinator, which means she provides nursing care within the clinic but also coordinates program admissions, obtains insurance authorizations, and provides education to patients and families before, during, and after their program admission. Her extraordinary clinical skills are matched, however, by her empathy and compassion for her patients.

Andy Collins, MD, medical director of the FIRST program, sees this regularly. “Many of the patients and families in the FIRST program have felt misunderstood by the healthcare system and have traveled quite a distance to obtain care here,” he said. “Abbi puts these families at ease before they have even arrived in Cincinnati, continuing that relationship through their time in the program and their follow-up visits.”

The follow-up clinic is hands-down her favorite part of the job.

“The patients follow up one month, six months, and 12 months after they’re discharged from inpatient and they’re walking,” John said. “I’m a pain management nurse, but I don’t even ask about pain in that clinic. I just ask, ‘What are you doing? What have you been up to?’ And they’re walking. They’re running. They get back to their high-intensity ballet. And they’re going to college, whereas they came in in a wheelchair. It makes it worth it to see them face-to-face after talking to them for months at a time when they were in a much worse condition. Hearing about life events that probably wouldn’t have happened are highlights for me.”

Close-Knit Culture: Kelli Lichner, MSN, RN, CPN

Kelli Lichner’s upbeat energy is infectious, and she lights up when talking about her patients and team on A6C, where she is a clinical manager. Her passion for creating the best experience for these two groups is clear in her recent efforts, such as partnering with a physician to create a reciprocal shadowing experience between new nurses and physicians on her unit, which was presented at the Society of Pediatric Nurses Conference in 2020 and published in the May 2021 issue of Hospital Pediatrics. She also initiated an effort to reduce response time to emergency bedside alarms, which included a competition between teams, and the unit improved response times by 62 percent. Her impact on patient care is evident additionally in the unit’s ability to assess a patient’s medically ready status and sustain a greater than 80-percent discharge rate within two hours of meeting medical goals. Yet she doesn’t consider any of this as going above and beyond.

“I don’t really see it as going the extra mile,” Lichner said. “I kind of see it as my day-to-day work and responsibilities. I think when you look at yourself, you don’t necessarily see the entire impact that you’re having on others. After reading my nomination letter, I was like, wow, that was me. It really opened my eyes to my career as a nurse and why I’m really here and why I do what I do.”

Lichner makes sure to take care of her team as well, championing work/life balance among her staff. As the manager who oversees the final nurse schedule, she works to ensure unit needs are met but staff needs are considered also. Her daily texts to nurses to make sure they have eaten lunch are appreciated, as is her support to provide patient care so they can take needed breaks.

And the focus on the patient/family experience remains a priority.

“One thing that we enjoy doing on our unit is rounding with our patients and families,” she said. “We try to hit at least each family during an admission, and we really focus on them understanding their plan of care. I feel like, even in those short moments when I meet the patients and families, I can make a difference in their lives, and they really appreciate us checking in with them.

“And then as far as our staff goes, we try to keep a positive working culture, by just listening, rounding on staff, making sure they have the things they need to perform their jobs, making sure they understand the work they’re doing, and that they can always come and ask us for feedback or a helping hand.”

She thinks of the little things: the art of nursing.

“I’ve wanted to be a nurse ever since I was 5 years old,” Lichner said. “I just always wanted to help people and take care of people, just be in the hospital setting. I was in the hospital once as a child, and I always remembered all the nurses who took care of me. Being nominated [for the Torch of Excellence] makes you really feel like you’re making a difference in the lives of others around you.”

The 2022 Torch of Excellence Nursing Awards will be presented May 12 at the Duke Energy Convention Center.

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