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Nursing News HighlightsNurses Leading Innovation

A Nurse Leads the Way in Innovation By Asking Questions

Female nurse in full scrubs and face mask marking notes on a clipboard in front of other medical personnel performing surgery
From founding new nursing organizations to creating new cardiac surgery programs, Patricia “Trish” C. Seifert, MSN, RN, CNOR, FAAN, a perioperative cardiac surgery consultant from Falls Church, Va., has used her nursing background in many different ways. We had the chance to talk to her about her career, leadership, mentorship, and asking the important questions.
Can you share a bit about your nursing background and what led you to become a nurse?
Trish Seifert
A few years after I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in History, I had to have a biopsy and I realized I didn’t know much about healthcare. A personal defense mechanism for me has always been knowing as much as possible about a given challenge, so I went to a local nursing school and earned an associate degree in nursing (ADN).

Eventually, I went to an Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) local chapter conference. I was intrigued by the anatomy, the ability to work with intelligent people, getting answers to questions promptly, and seeing results almost immediately. I have always asked a lot of questions, and have learned to respect and respond to those who asked me lots of questions. This has served me well in starting programs and being elected to AORN offices.

Can you tell us about the development of the cardiac surgical programs you’ve participated in?
When I completed an operating room (OR) fellowship at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Va., I was put into an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialty. The head nurse position in the cardiac unit opened up and I started having people come up to me and ask if I was going to apply for the position. I knew nothing about cardiac surgery, but I was not afraid to ask questions.

At the time, working as a surgical nursing assistant was approved in only two states: Virginia and Idaho. The state of Virginia allowed the creation of Registered Nurse First Assistant (RNFA) programs with the state’s approval. I created a curriculum — one of the first in the U.S. — and it included didactic, preceptorship, and lab practice. As the leader, I was adamant that we all share our knowledge to strengthen the team.

I decided to accept an offer for an administrative position from another hospital, where I started a quality improvement (QI) program for the OR and put together a cardiac program for an affiliate hospital. Over the next few years, I was recruited to start a cardiac surgery program in Arlington, Va., and a cardiac program in Daytona Beach, Fla. In these positions, I looked at the whole cardiac service program and worked to make the care as seamless as possible. It’s important to reach out to other departments related to surgery — I never waited for them to come to me. Cardiac surgery is the ultimate team sport.

What inspired you to become involved in these types of programs?
I liked the excitement, the unlimited opportunity to keep learning, and the incredible people. Most of all, I had many opportunities to make a difference in the lives of people in their most vulnerable states.

As for as the leadership portion, I love turning caterpillars into butterflies. I have been able to delegate many new projects to staff who had great potential to grow, learn, and lead. They have rarely (if ever) disappointed me.

Why is it critical for nurses to lead the way in innovative care?
I think nurses are best suited to leadership because all roads lead to and through nurses. In other words, nurses can communicate with all parties — physicians, administrators, support services — in their language, coordinate care, and anticipate problems. Nurses are the ultimate problem solvers.

Humans are not machines and they are constantly changing. Therefore, nurses need to be constantly alert to changes, innovations, and other aspects that affect the human condition.

In what ways can nurses specifically play critical roles in patient safety and contribute to better overall patient outcomes?

Ask questions — even the stupid ones. This is so important in being able to foster curiosity, trust, and innovation. In a trusting environment, the nurse will be more likely to speak up and potentially save a limb— or a life. Finally, get to know the clinicians who care for your patients throughout the patient continuum so that these relationships foster better communication among and between those caring for the patient.

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