Jake Meitzler, R.N., BSN did not originally set out to become a nurse. He was working weekends as an emergency medical technician while completing a degree in biobehavioral health, and was considering becoming a paramedic. His mother, a registered nurse, suggested that he think about nursing instead. Jake enrolled in Penn State University’s second degree nursing program and found it was a perfect fit.
Jake, of South Park Township, started working as an emergency room staff nurse at St. Clair Hospital in 2015. He was promoted to a charge nurse and unit coordinator in 2018, and in April, was named Manager of the Emergency Department.
Emergency nursing was clearly the right specialty for Jake, and he loved the work environment that he found as a staff nurse in St. Clair’s ER. “St. Clair has a culture of collegiality and a philosophy of patient-centered care that lend themselves to extraordinary teamwork,” he says. “In the ER, we care for patients like a NASCAR pit crew — we descend all at once and get everything done very quickly. The faster you initiate care and put the patient into the system the better it is for the patient. We get them stabilized and treated faster.”
“St. Clair has a culture of collegiality and a philosophy of patient-centered care that lend themselves to extraordinary teamwork.”
At one point in his career, Jake accepted a full-time opportunity to work in informatics at another hospital, but he continued to work at St. Clair on the weekends before returning full-time. When St. Clair added a new management position in the ER, Jake applied for the job.“I knew that I eventually wanted to move into management, and this came along at exactly the right moment. I view this position as an opportunity to improve the work environment for the benefit of my peers. I’m an advocate for the staff and I’m excited about what can be improved. There is a solid foundation for growth here and an administration that listens well and wants to help us solve problems.”
“There is a solid foundation for growth here and an administration that listens well and wants to help us solve problems.”
Jake says the transition to management has been inspiring at every level. “I’m building new relationships, with the ER staff and with other departments. I’m being exposed to things that one doesn’t know about at the staff level. It’s a never-ending education, every day, but then that is true for nursing in general.” One of Jake’s plans for the ER staff is to increase the number of nurses who have certification. That credential, “CEN” or Certified Emergency Nurse, gives the entire staff a deeper pool of knowledge, he believes. “An ER nurse sees everything and is required to be a jack-of-all trades. A nurse with certification is a resource to the rest of the team and improves everyone’s delivery of care.”
Jake has high praise for the ER’s physician leaders. “Our physician group is fantastic. They buy into the interdisciplinary, collegial culture completely. They are true team members and it’s not at all unusual to see our doctors asking the nurses for their input and ideas. We also have excellent registration staff, respiratory therapists, and patient escorts on the ER staff, and we have excellent relationships with community emergency providers. This is an exceptional ER — we get nearly 63,000 visits per year, which makes us one of the busiest ERs in the region. It’s a complex place that can be stressful, but there is also an adrenalin rush in working here. ER nurses have to have experience and a mindset that enables them to deal with trauma on a daily basis. We are each other’s support system; we share a commitment to each other and a commitment to the patient.”
“It’s not at all unusual to see our doctors asking the nurses for their input and ideas.”
Jake admits concern that the public can sometimes misunderstand what nurses do, but he wants everyone to know: Patients always come first with nurses. “As an ER nurse, I want to give the best care and for me, that includes ‘reading the room’— getting a sense of the patient so I can tailor my care to the individual. Some patients need me to be warm and personal; others want a more clinical approach. My assessment of the patient’s unique needs leads to a positive patient experience. That’s what quality is — safe, effective care, on an individual patient level.”
Katherine Gillihan, R.N., BSN, CMSRN, (Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse), who has worked on Nursing Unit 6E for three years, has navigated an unusual career path to get to her present position. At 18, fresh out of high school, she looked to St. Clair Hospital, close to her Mt. Lebanon home, for gainful employment. She accepted a position in the Housekeeping Department on the night shift — a job that suited her well, as she soon enrolled in day classes to become a phlebotomist. The new job in the lab was ideal for “Katie” — it took her all over the Hospital and provided her with opportunities to watch and learn about health care career options. It didn’t take long for her to focus on nursing, and her flexible schedule in the lab enabled her to take the next step: acquiring an associate degree in nursing from Community College of Allegheny County. By then, Katie was a familiar face throughout the Hospital, known for her strong work ethic and upbeat personality.
Katie now has three years of bedside nursing experience on a unit where she cares for patients who have undergone major surgeries. She loves her work: “Every day is different; every patient is unique. On a surgical unit, things get fixed — the patient is most likely going to feel better, go home and go on to a better quality of life. It’s satisfying, but also challenging. People come to the Hospital for surgery, but they bring their comorbidities (two or more chronic diseases or conditions) with them and are often high-acuity (require intense nursing care) patients. They might have heart disease, diabetes or another chronic disease and have to be monitored for any signs of complications.”
Katie is one of the senior nurses on the night shift; she has achieved certification in medical-surgical nursing; and she has completed a baccalaureate degree program at California University of Pennsylvania. She is a strong proponent of nurses acquiring a BSN degree and she is appreciative of St. Clair’s exceptionally supportive policies to help nurses at the Hospital do so. “The more education nurses have, the better it is for the patient. And a BSN gives nurses even greater career choices. St. Clair encouraged me to get my degree and certification by offering incentives; my bosses here have made every step of my career ladder possible. St. Clair also offers excellent on-the-job education. Things change constantly — new technology, surgical procedures and concepts — and we have to stay abreast.”
“St. Clair encouraged me to get my degree and certification by offering incentives; my bosses here have made every step of my career ladder possible.”
Katie personifies some of the best qualities of nurses. Her personal nursing philosophy is a simple one: take care of your patient, first, and the rest will fall into place. Her colleagues have recognized her for the achievements she has reached in just a few short years as a nurse: she has been chosen by them as St. Clair’s recipient of the 2019 Cameos of Caring nomination. Cameos is a prestigious regional award that was created to honor exceptional bedside nurses. For Katie, it is made more meaningful by the fact that her co-workers chose her unanimously. “It was a complete surprise! Any one of the nurses I work with deserves this honor,” she insists. “My co-workers are amazing.”
Katie says her future might involve nursing informatics, a blend of nursing science and information management and analytical sciences. “I have a broad mindset because of my experience throughout the Hospital; that taught me that every job is important and every department matters. The interdisciplinary nature of nursing and the interdepartmental interaction at St. Clair unite us in a common mission — the care of the patient. That is the shining light that directs me every day.”
“The interdisciplinary nature of nursing and the interdepartmental interaction at St. Clair unite us in a common mission — the care of the patient.”