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A Beacon Journey

Nov 14, 2015

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But I absolutely love what I do. I absolutely do not regret the career choice I made.

Susanne Collins

For Susanne Collins, a nurse manager in surgical ICU at UCI Medical Center, her career path — and that of her unit on its journey to Beacon Gold award status in particular — can only be described as serendipitous.

“I wanted to be a teacher when I was young,” she recalled.  “When I was a sophomore in high school in biology class I really enjoyed dissecting frogs, so I thought I might want to become a coroner. Realizing that becoming a coroner would entail going to medical school, which was not an option, I decided to pursue a different path.

“So I remember thinking, ‘What else can I do that’s like that?’ And I looked into nursing, and the more I looked into it, the more I realized it was what I wanted to do. And it’s been great; it’s been the best of both worlds — medicine and teaching.”

Although born in Australia, Susanne also spent time growing up in Austria and Germany, as well as New Jersey — all of this before beginning high school in Torrance, California.  

“I would say that living and traveling all over the world, I got a world of education from my social experience,” she said. “Even now, there are a few I words get heck for at work, because they tell me I say them the wrong way.

“I absolutely love what I do. I absolutely do not regret the career choice I made. The people here are so talented and competent and engaged in some of the most important work there is. And there is so much diversity in nursing – you can be a psych nurse, you can specialize in oncology, become an educator, get involved in research … it is such a dynamic and diverse field, and the people with whom I work are so compassionate.”

A Beacon Journey Longer Than Most

Most Beacon journeys last a year or two, perhaps a bit more. But they’ve got nothing on the one Susanne’s unit undertook. Even though  her staff may not have realized it at the time,  the IDEA of a Beacon journey started 10 years before this remarkable team’s efforts were to be rewarded – and would involve some incredible foresight from their manager, a decade-old file of the original Beacon  Award application, two energetic young nurses and one really good nursing conference.

“In July of 2005 I was a young nurse manager,” Susanne remembered, I was on the AACN website and became aware of the Beacon Award, and it was something I was really interested in. I printed-out the forms and all of the paperwork.

“At the time we were going through some changes at the hospital, and I wasn’t sure we would qualify, but it was something I was sure I wanted to do at some point.”

So, she put the forms in a manila folder, where they sat for the next 10 years.

‘We Can Do This’

In 2009, change had come to the facility; a brand new hospital building, a bigger unit with more beds, but still the same dedicated staff.  But the years just go by — things happen, things change — and old goals are replaced with new ones. But the adage of “what is old is new again” is certainly evident in this story.

Specifically, two young nurses, Kimberly Hicks and Angela Gillies, attended the 2013 NTI conference in Boston and happened across the Beacon presentation and immediately became excited. Upon their return from the show and after reviewing all of the requirements, they made a beeline to see Susanne about this program.

“They came in and said, ‘We can do all of this, Susanne.’ That’s when I whipped out that old folder, showed them the original Beacon Application dated July 2005 and said, ‘Of course we can do this.’ So I suggested that they present their idea to our unit-based Practice Council and in August of 2013, they did, and that’s really when we started formally on our journey, collecting stories and evidence to meet all of the standards set forth in the application.”

‘Over the Top With Excitement’

On Jan. 26, 2015, at 4:57 p.m., Susanne got the email that would forever change her unit.

“I got the email informing me that we’d received the Gold award,” she recalled. “And I can’t remember what I said, but I know yelling and screaming with excitement was involved. Angela’s a very quiet girl, but when she found out she shouted with delight, and then I called Kim, and she was equally as exhilarated. I wanted Kim and Angela to be the first to know of our accomplishment, since they were the ones that reignited the spark that I had 10 years prior. Of course, then the ICU Nursing Director and CNO were informed of our achievement.

“I can tell you that when the SICU staff were informed about our achievement they were over the top with excitement, joy and pride.”

The award just serves as a tangible affirmation of the quality and competency Susanne already knew existed in her unit.

“I was really overwhelmed and overjoyed more for my staff, for all the work they do,” she said. “And for us to receive the Gold award on our first application was great.”

And it all started with two young nurses getting excited after attending the NTI conference.

“NTI is awesome,” Susanne gushed. “It’s an invigorating experience for any critical care nurse, whether new to critical care or for those with many years of experience. They’re always up-to-date and feature relevant topics being discussed; they’re a great networking opportunity — it’s really the best nursing conference I have attended.

“That’s a reflection of AACN as a whole,” she said. “AACN is our go-to organization when policies and procedures need to be changed. They were very helpful in our Beacon journey; clarifying questions, timelines, etc.”

The journey to a Beacon award — even when the timelines seem years longer than usual and include 10-year-old files that are printed out and saved — is well worth the outcome, and is confirmation of a unit that is Beacon gold.