Nurses: Inspire, Innovate, Influence

In honor of this year's Nurses Week theme, "Nurses: Inspire, Innovate, Influence," University at Buffalo faculty, staff and students shared their thoughts and stories about the amazing nurses they know who have touched their lives and the lives of others.

 These amazing nurses have impacted so many people, both personally and professionally, at the bedside, the classroom and beyond. Thank you to every nurse for your tireless dedication to providing compassionate care to patients and families, and for helping us to educate the next generation of nurses.

And, from those of us who are not nurses, thank you for being a light of strength, hope and humanity in this tumultuous world.

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Passion, kindness, mindfulness: Setting nursing students on the right path

Dr. Loralee Sessanna was one of the first professors our class met during our first semester of nursing school and not only did she guide us through a journey of nursing history, but she ignited the passion for nursing in each and every student seated before her. Coming from some of the tougher courses of that first semester where we learned brand new terms and various nursing techniques, there were some days in which I thought I saw the end of my career as a nursing student. But (and I think I can speak for the entire class when I say this) it was because of Dr. Sessanna and her class that I was reassured I was on the right path.

I remember specifically walking into her classroom on that first day being greeted by a smile and friendly face offering her name and a gentle introductory handshake. NEVER have I had a professor greet me at the door eager to say hello and know my name. I knew from that moment on, that is what a true nurse looks like and that is the type of both nurse and person I aspire to be.

As we learned from Dr. S throughout the semester, I never heard one complaint about course work or any other task required for her class (and the work was pretty lengthy, research based projects!). The students were generally happy to do the work. Her down-to-earth, approachable demeanor, made it so easy to actually want to succeed in her class and in nursing school in general!

Dr. Sessanna had an open door policy, one that I particularly took a liking to since I was so drawn to both her passion for nursing and investment in mindfulness practice. I learned so many things from her on the topic of mindfulness, but for the sake of this discussion I will only mention a few:

1. Be Kind. Kindness, by far, is Dr. S's "MO". Wherever, whoever, no matter the circumstances, I have experienced nothing but kindness and right-doings during my time knowing Dr. S. Each professor, student, colleague, and anyone else who has the pleasure of knowing Dr. S would be in agreement that she only has everyone's best intentions in mind and is not afraid to stand up and advocate for the morally right course of action. I have never left an encounter (class, conversation, even emails) with Dr. S not smiling.

2. Be a lifetime student. I found myself in Dr. S's office one afternoon and we got talking on the topic of mindfulness. As she is an avid advocate of holistic nursing and I am one in the making, she shared with me that she was still enrolled in courses, a mindfulness course to be exact! Even with a doctorate, she demonstrated that there is always something to be learned. Whether it is online mindfulness courses or the everyday experience, Dr. S seems to take a little something from every moment. Throughout our conversations she would jot down notes, showing that she was genuinely interested in the words coming out of my mouth...a student's mouth! And as during any of her conversations she would actively tune in; as if you were the only person in the room talking, truly listening to your string of words, taking in and considering the idea you had just revealed.

3. Our stories were meant to be shared. This is where the majority of my learning has accrued from Dr. S. In lectures she would draw from her personal experience and incorporate the students as if we were right there with her learning every step of the way. She gave us insight as to where nursing came from and how even the most brutal of tragedies are balanced with light and laughter. She let us in on appropriate personal stories, acknowledging that being vulnerable is not something we need to be afraid of. She has encouraged us to open our own hearts and share our own teachings, because we too have stories worth sharing.

And then lastly, I think one of the most admirable characteristics of Dr. S is that I never felt as if I was bothering her or was her inferior in any way. In my experience, a typical professor-student relationship usually has the student depending on the professor for answers, information and other items the student is in need of, but a Dr. S.-student relationship is quite different. She has a way of making you feel special and as needed as she is to you. You feel proud of your work and excited to discuss with others what you have learned because of Dr. S.

She is the kind of teacher that makes you sit a little taller... speak a little louder...and smile a little brighter...because you know...without any doubt, she believes in you.

-Alison Thorpe, UB baccalaureate nursing student

If you don't try now, you will not try later

Nursing is caring. It is looking at a real person in real life and help her/him to get through a difficult phase of their lives. It is not just application of knowledge learned through college but to put a human touch in that too.

A few years ago, I was admitted into the hospital for my delivery. After my baby born, I was exhausted and uninterested in anything around me including my new born baby. Three days later, I was in the NICU and was looking at my baby when a nurse came by and asked me if I breast fed her yet. I told her I tried but in vain.

My problem was I was too afraid to hold my baby, thinking she is too fragile and I don't know how to hold her and would hurt her in some way. She affirmed that babies are stronger than we think they are and persuaded me to go ahead and feed her. I tried again and was unsuccessful again to feed her. New born babies are little and there is a technique to breastfeed them. I got frustrated and asked her firmly to not to push me any more to breastfeed. I remember her words, saying that “If you don't try now, you would not try later.” Her words somehow hit me and I, despite being defeated, tried again and of course perseverance is the key to the success.

It seems like a normal story but for a new mom it is extremely important to have someone who can guide you in the right direction or else you can lose the motivation to do well. I am glad she was there and she did her job wonderfully despite my little temper tantrums.

I believe she contributed in my baby's life as well as mine by teaching me a good lesson which I use even now in every aspect of my life. I really owe it to her.

-Saba Rajput, UB baccalaureate nursing student

Advocate, warrior

I was inspired by a nurse who, after working for a long time in a local nursing home and evaluating her own opinions about Independent Living Philosophy, took a pay cut to join a different organization and actually HELP people in nursing homes that want to go back to living in their home. This has so many challenges, but I've seen folks leave the nursing home and come home to a more fulfilling life. This transition requires medical and non-medical supports in place.

The nurse who inspires me is the one who makes sure those supports are in place by tirelessly advocating for her patient with doctors, social workers, insurance companies, aide services, medical equipment providers, even friends and family. She's a warrior!!!

-Colleen Larson, UB biomedical sciences student

A little courage, a huge impact

A nurse inspired me … when my grandfather was in the hospital after triple bypass surgery and a nurse encouraged him to change his diet and stay in shape. She made sure he did everything right to get back to living a healthier life again and I admired so much how she never gave up on him. All she did was give a little courage and that is all he needed.

I have wanted to be a nurse ever since, not just to help others, but encourage people to live better lives or be there for them in ways other than for medical reasons. Building a strong relationship with your patients is what makes the job that much more rewarding.

-Sarah Turano, UB baccalaureate nursing student

Helping us all do better for our patients

I would like to recognize Sandra Lauer, BSN, RN, who is the Director of Continuum of Care in Supportive Care and Palliative Medicine at Erie County Medical Center. She was my internship site supervisor at ECMC while I was earning my masters in social work. She not only “showed me the ropes,” as the Clinical Patient Advocate, but also demonstrated extraordinary skills while advocating for patients, negotiating challenging situations, de-escalating conflicts and managing effectively through crisis situations. Since then she has moved on to her current role, where she engages and trains in clinical settings, agencies of all types, and at community events to help foster better advance care planning.

This is what ECMC had to say about her as well, “Having developed a highly regarded and community-based initiative, ‘The Conversation Project,’ Sandra helps guide and assist in bridging the continuum of care to end-of-life care to ensure, in a respectful, culturally sensitive manner, that the community is engaged in this topic.”

She even brought her team to my old home care agency to train my staff on how to initiate and manage end-of-life conversations with their clients. She is a very inspiring mentor, leader and nurse.

-Thane Schulz, LMSW, MA, CMC, Project Coordinator/Senior Research Support Specialist, UB School of Nursing

Fierce advocate, dedicated mentor, compassionate clinician

Sandra Lauer, RN, BSN, is the Director of Continuum of Care in the Supportive and Palliative Medicine Department at Erie County Medical Center. Sandra works on the palliative medicine team and encounters people with serious illness throughout the hospital and on the 6-bed palliative care unit. She addresses issues that surround death and dying on a daily basis. It is important to ground Sandra’s work in the knowledge that the human encounter with death is daunting, surreal and breathtaking. We are not born into this life knowing how to die or how to take care of someone who is dying. Being present with people who are in some of these most difficult moments in life — and easing their uncertainty — is the true essence of supportive and palliative care. Sandra has an amazing ability to be present with people who are dying and to ease their pain.

Sandra is an incredibly gifted clinician who helps people with serious illnesses and their families navigate the difficult terrain of decision-making about their wishes. She is passionately dedicated to helping people articulate their goals and values and how they inform choices about care in the later stages of a terminal illness. Sandra is a fierce advocate for the right to be heard and understood when it matters the most. She is a skilled educator who teaches students and professionals – in all disciplines — how to approach and talk with people about difficult health care decisions when they may never have thought about or had the opportunity to talk about what they would want.

After NYS passed the Palliative Care Information Act which requires patients who have a terminal diagnosis to be informed about their options for palliative care, ECMC joined the Conversation Ready Collaborative. Together with her team, Sandra has educated 100s of people in using the nationally recognized Serious Illness Conversation Guide for facilitating conversations. I have had the privilege of watching her work — and it is impressive. As an educator, Sandra provides guiding principles and opportunities to practice these important skills but more importantly and notably Sandra actively demonstrates her deep commitment to being “in the moment” with people who are needy and facing difficult times. Sandra is committed to easing pain and suffering — in all ways — and to helping health care professionals become comfortable doing the same.

The importance of being well cared for in a serious illness and at the end of life cannot be overstated.  Good care includes the opportunity to express what is most important and for that to be at the forefront.  There is great room for improvement in the ways that we currently care for people who are dying in this country. Sandra Lauer is deeply committed to improving care for people who have serious illnesses and at the end of life. She is a skilled clinician, a dynamic educator, a generous collaborator and she is beyond supportive as a colleague. Sandra makes a tremendous difference in the lives of all whom she touches.

-Deborah Waldrop PhD, LMSW, Professor & Associate Dean for Faculty Development, UB School of Social Work

Unsung hero

To my sister-in-law Terri who provided loving care to the clients of People Inc.:

Thank you for dedicating your professional life to the compassionate care of individuals with developmental disabilities.

You are a true hero.

-David Draper, Associate Vice President, Principal Gifts, University at Buffalo

Strength, and love

Nurses are truly the unsung heroes in health care. I am fortunate to have two nurses in my family, including my mother and a sister. Times have changed a great deal since my mom, now 84, graduated from nursing school and began her journey. She loved nursing a great deal and the bulk of her career was caring for the critically ill in intensive care.

As a child it was difficult when she worked holidays, and it seemed everywhere we went someone would approach her to express their gratitude for helping save their loved one’s life. She was excellent at what she did and the countless hours she worked were often difficult, both physically and emotionally. But it was truly the love of her life.

My sister is an ER nurse and will be attending UB soon to finish her bachelor’s degree. Her long shifts include dealing with many kinds of people who are often facing one of the most frightening experiences of their life. Her compassion, strength, and commitment to excellence are par none. She was a floor nurse for 10 years, but recently chose the ER as a new challenge. The transition has been grueling at times, but she loves what she does. Helping to save someone’s life is a tremendous blessing to her and I am so proud of who she is.

-Beth Ranney, Philanthropy Coordinator, UB School of Management

Life-changing gifts

When I gave birth to my third child things moved very quickly. No one could locate the doctor so the nurse and my husband delivered our daughter (our girl after two boys!). The experience was so special to me that a year after Abby was born I enrolled in nursing school. When I did my OB clinical at Sisters Hospital a few years later I took the nurse’s picture with me. I wanted to find her and thank her for the wonderful care and inspiration she provided. Unfortunately she had moved out of the area and no one knew where she had gone not even to forward a note to her from me. I am still a bit sad that she will never know how inspirational she was and how it changed my life.

-Gale Klinshaw, MSN, RN, Clinical Lab Coordinator, UB School of Nursing

Ray of hope, source of strength

My cousin had been an ER nurse for many years. He is a true giver of himself in every aspect of his life. I call him a Timex – he takes a licking and keeps on ticking. He has shown me what it is like to take care of patients, supervise nurses and keep a unit flowing seamlessly and at the end of the shift, he still has time for his children, grandchildren, and his brother (who he cares for daily) and for my Mom and myself as well. He also cared for our grandparents for a long period.

One of his biggest assets is that he never gets upset and always tries to infuse levity and laughter in his treatments, be it with patients or his staff. I was able to experience this firsthand when I would see him in his element and when he took time out of his busy schedule to care for me in my time of need.

He inspires me to become a better individual and a caregiver, even when the days are brutal and you just want to throw in the towel. He says to take one day at a time; some days you have to take time hour by hour or even minute by minute and then he makes you laugh until you cry. He says to try to make the person happier when you leave them and know that they are truly cared for, not make them feel you are just doing your job. He did not only do what he was trained to do, he made a difference in many lives on a daily basis.

He will always be someone who inspires me and look up to for guidance, strength, and support and will inspire me to keep moving forward no matter how difficult the days might be. If it was not for him, my life would truly be different.

-Lynn Emminger, Human Resources Manager, UB School of Nursing

Tell the world about an inspirational, innovative or influential nurse you know.

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