Nursing Alumna Nurtures Process Improvements

Woman concentrating while working at a computer workstation

While working as a transplant nurse coordinator at University of California, Irvine (UCI), Samantha Sulkoske, then a Ball State master’s in nursing student, observed the wait time for patients scheduled for organ transplants.  

As part of a personal initiative supported by team leadership and physicians, she created a triaging tool to evaluate each patient referral and schedule their evaluation, which allowed for timely transplants and decreased waiting times.

“It streamlined the scheduling process and supported expedited workups for listing and a shorter turnaround time for transplantation,” says Samantha, now clinical expediter for the Swedish Transfer and Operations Center (STOC), which is part of the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.  

Her Triaging Tool Wins IONL Scholarship 

The tool at the center of the project, “A Triage-Based Approach for Managing Transplant Referrals,” won Samantha the 2021 Indiana Organization for Nursing Leadership (IONL) scholarship.  

She presented her project at the annual Kidney/Pancreas Transplant and Nephrology Symposium, attended by health care professionals around the country. 

“My colleagues at UCI Health have informed me that my process is still used today,” she says. 

Siktberg Nomination Was Huge Accomplishment: Samantha 

Dr. Linda Siktberg, director of Ball State’s School of Nursing, nominated Samantha for the (IONL) scholarship. 

“This passion for process improvement is what eventually led Samantha to choose an administrative/leadership career path,” wrote Dr. Siktberg in her letter of recommendation. 

According to Samantha, “The honor of being nominated for the scholarship by my professors and Dr. Siktberg was a huge accomplishment in and of itself.” 

Discovers Passion for Process Improvement 

While considering a master’s in nursing, Samantha looked at several schools. “Ultimately, I chose Ball State because of my experience there as an undergraduate student and their flexibility in course work through online options,” she says. 

At first, Samantha was going to pursue the family nurse practitioner concentration. But after working on the transplant referral project, she realized her passion for process improvement.  

“I’ve discovered I really have a knack for process improvement,” she says. “I originally started my studies with a family nurse practitioner concentration, but after working on this project I realized my passion for process improvement and leadership. I decided to switch concentrations to nursing administration, and I have continued to advocate for process improvement in my professional career.”  

Testing Instrument Reduces Lab Times 

While working as an oncology nurse navigator for Ascension St. Vincent in Indianapolis, Samantha implemented the use of a POC (point of care) testing instrument to reduce lab turnaround times—and patient wait times—for chemotherapy infusions. This quality improvement project was then selected to be used to maintain CoC (Commission on Cancer) accreditation for the cancer program at Ascension. 

At the Swedish Transfer and Operations Center, Samantha oversees the input, output, and flow of overall patient volume as they proceed from admission to discharge. 

Will Pursue Ball State MBA from Seattle  

From Seattle, Samantha will soon begin her Ball State online MBA. “A degree in business will open myself up to the opportunity for entrepreneurial pursuits,” she says. 

She’s impressed by the fact that the MBA consistently ranks in the top 20 online business schools in the United States. She says the online MBA, added to her BSN and her online MSN, will give her a “three-peat” for degrees earned at Ball State. 

Graduate Nursing Student Battled COVID as Brand-New RN

In her first year as an RN, bachelor of nursing alumnus Sabrina Manahan confronted COVID-19 when she prepped a patient for the ventilator.

“I held his hand and cried with him as he said goodbye to his wife, not knowing if it would be his last,” says Sabrina, who is now in Ball State’s online master’s in nursing. “He made us promise to do everything possible to save him.”

These were the early days of the pandemic. Like other hospitals, her hospital was beginning to isolate cases with COVID from other patients.

Begins Search for Master’s Degree

Meanwhile, Sabrina was comparing graduate nursing programs.

Easy choice. Except for clinicals, her alma mater’s master’s in nursing was online. She knew the professors. She knew the staff. Class time and study time would fit around her work schedule. Online study decreased the risks of students spreading the virus among classmates. And she could pursue a concentration leading to a family nurse practitioner’s license.

“I chose this concentration so that I will be able to treat the general population rather than a smaller demographic in which I work with now,” she says, referring to her present position in ICU. “I have always wanted to work in a small family clinic.”

Treats COVID Patients Every Day

Today Sabrina works at IU Health Arnett Hospital in Lafayette, Indiana.

“I am working with COVID-positive patients on a daily basis, so it was nice that I’d not have to worry about time from school if I were to need tested—or if I were COVID-positive,” she says.

Treating COVID-positive patients isn’t quite as harrowing as it was during her first year as an RN, says Sabrina.

“To Others This Was Pure Terror”

“We had a whole floor designated for COVID patients, and every day you were randomly assigned to either work on the trauma unit or the COVID unit,” she says. “To some, this was no issue, but to others this was pure terror.”

Many nurses questioned giving COVID patient care when the risks were still unknown, says Sabrina. They watched experienced RNs cry when they huddled from fear and lack of information.

Nursing staff were receiving updated guidelines—daily—from the Centers for Disease Control or World Health Organization which triggered changes in procedures.

Constant Battle to Keep Up

“It seemed to be a constant battle with new surges of infection that we had to keep up with to make sure we had enough beds, supplies, and staff to manage the great increase in patients,” she says.

Sabrina was one of few who volunteered to work the COVID floor.

“I was able to volunteer with less fear than others because in the beginning it was mainly affecting people in their 40s and above,” she says. “I was only 24 years old so I figured it would be safer for me to go to our COVID unit than my coworkers in their 40s and 50s.”

Not that she’ll ever forget that first step inside a COVID patient’s room.

Says She Was Shaking as She Put on PPE

“I remember I was shaking as I put on my PPE,” says Sabrina, referring to the personal protective equipment worn by health-care workers. “It was a lot of stress knowing that if you didn’t wear everything correctly or take it off correctly that you could risk spreading or contracting the virus.”

“The most sobering aspect for me was having to hold up an iPad for family members to say goodbye to their loved ones,” says Sabrina. “I could never imagine not being able to be there with a loved one while they passed, and I was having people do it every day.  I still get angry thinking about it to this day.”

Pandemic Impact Considered in Grad Class 

The impact of the pandemic has found its way into her graduate classes, she says.

“We have discussed the pathophysiology of coronavirus and how it has impacted health care,” she says. “We discuss how the pandemic has greatly advanced telehealth and the way people access health care.”

Connie McIntosh, associate professor of nursing, learned Sabrina’s and other students’ stories when they were in her nursing information technology class. “Being able to balance graduate work with a full-time professional nursing role is not easy,” says Connie. “Being able to do it during a pandemic is heroic-like.”

Online M.S. in Nursing Student Pursues Assignment in Middle East

Like others in her master’s program, Cory Hasik was in a rush to graduate last December.

But unlike others, she had semester courses to finish early so she could pack for an excursion 7,000 miles and seven hours away.

First Sergeant of Indiana Army National Guard, Cory was being deployed to the Middle East as a flight paramedic. As the senior enlisted medical professional of her unit, Cory’s aeromedical evacuation unit is responsible for providing air evacuation of casualties, in her words, “to a higher echelon of care.”

Her specific location and assignment remain classified. “I can say that it is a dynamic environment that changes quickly,” she reported, soon after arriving at her site of deployment. “The operational environment is dynamic due to threat and heightened by COVID-19.”

Ready to Transport and Treat

Cory says her unit is equipped with the tools needed to transport and treat COVID patients.

Leading up to her deployment, Cory worked full time as a telemetry unit nurse at the Jesse Brown V.A. Medical Center in Chicago. She was also enrolled in the Ball State Online master of science in nursing and pursuing the nurse administrator concentration.

Cory wasn’t surprised that Ball State accommodated her military obligations. When she first considered MSN programs in Indiana, she concluded that Ball State University not only “offered one of the state’s highly comprehensive online [nursing] administrator programs” but were also “large supporters of military students.”

She Saw Military Support First-Hand

She was in the middle of a practicum at the Adam Benjamin, Jr. VA Outpatient Clinic in Crown Point, Indiana, when she learned that she would be deployed overseas.

“I was offered the opportunity to complete my clinical requirements in an abbreviated time frame,” says Cory. Course instructor and Ball State associate professor of nursing, Dr. Connie McIntosh, worked with Cory so she could complete clinic hour requirements and a final paper by Dec. 1, before heading to premobilization training.

Nursing Was Opportunity to Change Lives

Cory had entered the nursing field in 2017 after finishing her bachelor’s in nursing, and after five years as a paramedic.

She liked the fact that bedside nursing allows nurses the opportunity to change the lives of their patients. Having served a previous role with a V.A. outpatient clinic and, most recently, with a V.A. medical center, Cory’s goal is to create a future job where she can broaden services to veterans as well as improve policies and processes.

“The military has provided me many leadership development courses,” says Cory. “However, the lessons learned from this master’s program will make me a more well-rounded leader, capable of handling diverse and challenging issues.”

Nursing Team Was Helpful

Cory says Diana Bantz, associate director for graduate nursing programs, and Shantelle Estes, graduate advisor, were also instrumental in helping her finish her semester before her deployment.

A 17-year veteran of the Indiana Army National Guard, this is Cory’s third deployment. She served in Iraq as a clinical medic in 2005-2006 and in Afghanistan as a line medic in 2011-2012.

At Turning Point, RN Finds Bachelor’s Completion Track

A missed promotion led Alma Ahmetovic to Ball State’s RN-to-BS nursing degree completion program, offered fully online, and a second chance at a job she wanted.

“I liked how well the professors explained the syllabus and course requirements and answered your email right away.”

FINDING THE RIGHT PROGRAM

When Alma Ahmetovic didn’t get promoted to director of nursing at the retirement home where she had worked for 14 years, it was a turning point in the RN’s career.

After conducting a bachelor’s degree search, Ahmetovic ventured into Ball State’s registered nurse to bachelor’s of science in nursing completion track, which is offered fully online.

“I didn’t know what to expect since I had been out of school for a few years and had never taken online classes before.”

FACULTY ADVISORS PROVIDE SUPPORT

Like many students new to the online experience, Ahmetovic was worried about fundamentals such as signing up for classes and submitting assignments and exams. But faculty and online advisors were there to provide support.

“The program was so organized,” she says. “I liked how well the professors explained the syllabus and course requirements and answered your emails right away. I never had to wait longer than a few hours or one day at the most.”

ANOTHER PROMOTION IN SIGHT

Ahmetovic completed her BSN in July of 2014, graduating cum laude.

But before she had even finished the program, the position of director of nursing became available again. To Ahmetovic, an offer of promotion was extended – and accepted. With her eyes on another promotion and at the encouragement of the nursing faculty, she is now pursuing the leadership and administration track of Ball State’s online master’s of science in nursing.

Ahmetovic is now director of health care services and she gives credit to Ball State professors: “I just loved my instructors. They wanted their students to learn, advance, and succeed.”

Nursing Faculty Have Her Respect

Marcie Baird pursued Ball State’s doctorate in nursing practice (DNP) because she knew the professors were masters of the online classroom and fully supportive of students working in the online format.

“I have great respect for the faculty.”

FACULTY MADE ONLINE CLASSROOMS A DRAW

Marcie Baird credits great teaching with drawing her to Ball State’s online doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) program.

“I have great respect for the faculty,” says Baird, who teaches undergraduate nursing at a private university in central Indiana and serves as a nurse practitioner at a community clinic.

Because she had graduated with an online master of science in nursing from Ball State in 2009, Baird knew the quality of the online classroom when she enrolled in the DNP program.

PROFESSORS COULD BE COUNTED ON

“Professors could always be counted on,” says Baird, “to respond on time to assignments and questions.” Video presentations featuring faculty consistently made class content come alive. She also has high regard for the director of the DNP program and her advisor, Beth Kelsey.

“With her guidance, I grew as a student and a professional,” says Baird, noting that she worked with Kelsey on an article for an advanced practice journal that grew out of her DNP capstone project.

CAPSTONE PROJECT IS DNP DISTINCTIVE

Required of all students, the capstone project is the signature of the Ball State DNP and consists of a scholarly plan to improve health outcomes in a healthcare system, clinical practice, or community setting.

Baird pursued her capstone, “Improving HCV Screening in a Free Clinic,” at her community clinic, which serves the uninsured. This project grew out of the faculty-supervised clinicals she performed at the same clinic where she discovered a population increasingly testing positive for Hepatitis C.”

She says the DNP degree has been a boost to her roles as a nursing professor and a nurse practitioner.

“Evidence-based practice is the foundation on which projects were built. Research was woven throughout the whole program,” says Baird. “It also brought a deeper dimension to teaching nursing.”

Christine Davis Completes Dream in RN-to-Bachelor’s-Degree Completion Track

It might not have been the best time for Christine Davis to go back to school.

She was working full time as a diabetes education coordinator. She was about to start a family. And she was balancing church and social activities.

Busy though she was, the bachelor’s in nursing had always been the goal, and it was time to realize the goal.

“People ask me, ‘How did you do it?’ I tell them, ‘I wanted it. It was a dream of mine,’ ” says Davis, who today is nursing professional development educator with IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie, Indiana.

Ball Memorial is where Davis began her career as a staff nurse immediately after earning her associate degree. When her unit evolved into the diabetes unit, she found her specialty and eventually became a certified diabetes educator.

“I think that’s really when I fell in love with teaching and learning,” says Davis, of her experience in teaching patients with diabetes. Soon she was in pursuit of her bachelor’s through Ball State’s online RN-to-bachelor’s-degree completion track.

Like many students, Davis needed a primer in online education. “It was a little nerve-racking at first,” says Davis. “But professors walked us through all the tools we had at our disposal. For example, they took us to a chat room and showed us how it worked.”

The freedom and flexibility factor is part of the appeal of online programs. But Davis liked the fact that assignment deadlines were identified at the start of classes, even though most of her courses didn’t have specific meeting times.

“I’m an organized person so I liked knowing from the beginning when all my assignments were due,” says Davis.

Davis pursued her degree just one class at a time, giving birth to two sons along the way. By the time her boys started school, she was balancing their school activities, teaching Sunday school, holding offices in a local sorority, and continuing to work full time. Although at one point she had to put her studies on pause, Davis achieved her degree and her dream in 2006.

That same year she began teaching part time in the certified nursing aide program for Ivy Tech Community College. A year later, and after 12 years in diabetes education, she assumed one of Ball Memorial’s nursing professional development educator positions.

In 2010, Davis decided to pursue a master of science in nursing and for her there were no other options than her alma mater. Ball State’s online master’s in nursing is the 11th largest in the country. Because of her interest in teaching, she was able to pursue a leadership track, designed for educators and administrators. And because the program was designed with part timers in mind, Davis, still the full-time mom and still the full-time nurse, is taking one class each semester and on target to finish in three years.

“Ball State cares about high quality education, and it shows—at the undergraduate level and the graduate level,” says Davis.

Davis liked the fact that the bachelor’s program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing (CCNE) since many employers, including hers, require their nurses to hold degrees from accredited schools.

Davis has become a cheerleader for the bachelor’s completion track. “When people tell me they have an associate degree, I start recruiting,” she says.

Along with several online programs in health and nursing, Ball State offers a number of online programs in business and leadership, communications and technology, and education and counseling.

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