It’s National Nurses Week and we’re celebrating the many dedicated, warmhearted nurses who care for patients and families. At Empath Health, nurses serve on every care team as well as in other roles and services. Our team nurses extend their skills, knowledge and compassion to comfort and support our patients and families.
Agnes Stanley, RN has devoted her longtime career to nursing. Almost five years ago, Stanley sought a new challenge, followed her calling to hospice care and joined Suncoast Hospice, a member of Empath Health. In this Q&A, Stanley discusses her history, her job as a staff RN on one of our facility teams, the ways her team achieves safety and quality in care and her fulfilling care experiences.
1. What’s your background?
I’ve been a nurse going on 20 years. My first job was a neuro step-down nurse at a New York Methodist Hospital unit helping patients recover from brain and back surgeries. I moved to Florida and worked in Pinellas County as a nurse at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital, a sub-acute rehab for brain injuries and stroke; an assistant director of nursing at Largo Health and Rehabilitation Center; and an assistant director of nursing and an interim director at Highland Pines Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, a 120-bed skilled nursing facility. I’m coming up on five years at Suncoast Hospice in September.
2. What drew you to hospice care?
I’ve worked with hospice for many years in long-term care facilities. I knew a lot of the nurses whom I work with now on my Suncoast Hospice team. I’ve enjoyed my relationships with those nurses. I was looking for a new challenge. Hospice was a calling for me in a way, something I felt I needed to do. I’ve always thought I’m here for a reason. I felt it was going to help me learn, grow and do something more for my patients.
3. What does your staff RN job entail?
Providing emotional support for our patients and their families; clinical support and monitoring of medications, vital signs, safety, comfort and pain for our patients; developing good relationships with our facilities so we’re available to assist them with our patients’ care when needed. I also served as my team’s advocate during preparation for The Joint Commission accreditation for Suncoast Hospice, including educating my team on best practices.
4. What are the most important responsibilities of your job?
Definitely pain management and safety. Monitoring meds, pain management, falls and safety (oxygen, fires, etc.) are big responsibilities. Communication is another important responsibility; without it, a lot can go wrong. One of the biggest responsibilities is being available for my patients and understanding what they and their families are going through. I always have the honor of accompanying them through this time of transition. I strive to be open, flexible and available in my profession and with my patients.
5. What qualities should hospice nurses and other team members possess?
A lot of people have this misconception that hospice nurses aren’t as clinically involved, but we are, sometimes even more so than in other areas. Hospice nurses are clinically competent and capable. It’s a technical field and one of the most comprehensive trainings to go through in any medical environment. Especially with care in people’s homes, including IVs, drains and in-depth applications that are usually performed in the hospital. You have to be well trained and able to do it with compassion, dignity and quality. Everybody’s got their own niche. There are some amazing learning opportunities.
In hospice, you must have compassion, good communication skills, an altruistic heart and flexibility. You have to be willing to learn, change and grow. As far as nursing, critical thinking is important. We have times in which we need to do critical thinking, apply it and follow through with our steps and procedures. That type of attribute will be beneficial even if you’re a chaplain, social worker or other team member. You also should not be afraid to confront and tackle difficult situations. I love being a problem solver and doing research for solutions that will benefit my patients and families.
6. How do you and your team comfort and support patients and families?
We provide comprehensive clinical support, emotional support and good communication that keeps our families up-to-date. We’re available 24/7 and that can ease a lot of anxiety and stress during this time in their life. Any time, day or night, someone will go out and visit them.
7. How do you and your team ensure patient safety?
I’m on our organization’s cultural safety committee and I have a history in risk management. We do specialized safety assessments during all patient visits and follow The Joint Commission guidelines for providing the best care. We audit fall prevention and oxygen and fire safety; inform patients of their rights and responsibilities; and do patient, facility and staff education, emergency operations and disaster planning, medication monitoring and reminders of patient information privacy protection.
One of our organization’s quality projects is geared toward helping our nurses, social workers, chaplains and volunteers provide smooth, safe transitions when our patients move from locations, such as from a nursing home to one of our care centers. Another big thing is making sure our patients can learn, too, as they are our partners in care.
8. What are the benefits of hospice?
Not having personally experienced hospice care I can share from my patients’ perspectives. They have had that opportunity to die with comfort, dignity and companionship. Sometimes companionship is very important, especially when we’re able to provide someone at the bedside of our patients who wish to stay at home.
Personally, I just lost a cousin who was chronically ill for a long time and passed away. He was young and no one thought to seek hospice for him. It’s important because he could have died without suffering. I know the support from hospice is so appreciated. I’ve received countless cards from families who’ve said they were thankful for all the care and emotional support we provided. It’s a difficult time because people are scared and unprepared to lose a loved one. That’s our job. We can be there to offer comfort and help through the transition.
9. What’s it like mentoring new nurses?
We have hospice mentors who follow new staff. I usually become a mentor to our new nurses, too. I have one under my wings now. We do student rotations and take them on visits. I like to sit with them and give a pep talk before and afterwards. I’d encourage them to not be afraid to cry and use their emotion, when appropriate; to use positive self-talk; to prioritize; to accept and adapt to change; to be open to learning and growing; and to be a global, critical thinker.
I love showing new nurses the ropes, building their confidence and teaching them how to take care of themselves. Self-care is so important – to go grab a sunset or take a break during the day. Sometimes it can be hard if there’s a lot of death in a short period of time. We grieve just like everybody else and we need to learn how to care of ourselves and be healthy. I try to eat right, exercise and enjoy my family time with my grandbaby. Every day she’s doing something new.
10. How has your work enriched your life?
I’ve cared for one hospice patient who was 108 years old. I’ve had so many patients who’ve contributed amazing things to our society. I get chosen out of everyone in the world to accompany them at the end of their life. It’s humbling and an honor for me to be there. I get to make sure they have comfort, dignity, quality and peace as well as help their families feel the same and offer an opportunity to have closure.
Over the years, I’ve had a lot of wonderful nurses, doctors and directors to follow. That becomes part of you when you move forward in your career. I always thought I’d retire when I reached 25 years as a nurse but that’s probably not going to happen. It has been a comprehensive, rewarding career.
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