New Nurses Learn and Teach

October 31, 2014

With 3,800 nurses in her charge, chief nursing officer Katherine Bullard has a knack for bringing out the best in everyone.

Everybody lucks into a win-win situation occasionally. Only someone special can achieve a win-win-win-win. Katherine Bullard, RN, accomplished just that with the rollout of the electronic medical record system in Providence’s Southern California region.

The electronic medical record system was developed by Epic Systems Corp. of Madison, Wisc., and is referred to as Epic. Nationwide the shift to electronic medical records has marked a massive and challenging transition for hospital personnel accustomed to the traditional, paper-packed medical charts. Electronic medical records, however, facilitate enhanced, real-time communication among health care providers and improve patient care and satisfaction. 

“As we were preparing for the Epic rollout, we were on a pretty compressed schedule,” Bullard says. “We were extremely concerned about meeting the needs of our patients if we had to pull one out of every six of our nurses and train them to be Epic ‘super-users’ to support the staff. We could replace them with temporary labor, but that’s costly and not optimum for continuity of care.”

A wealth of workforce graduates in nursing led to win No. 1. “We were aware that 42 percent of the newly graduated and newly licensed registered nurses in the Los Angeles area were not employed in nursing,” Bullard says. “If we could tap into the wealth of new nurses, we could train them as Epic experts.”

What the new nurses lacked in clinical expertise they made up for by being “technology natives.” As Bullard puts it,

“Computers are ubiquitous to this age group. They don’t remember a home without a computer. They are at ease with technology.”

Win No. 2 went to the veteran nurses—so-called “technology immigrants”—who had the technology native nurses to assist them. “We needed to get our more experienced nurses engaged in using Epic technology and ensure they felt supported,” Bullard says. “Each nursing unit had two types of ‘super-users’—experienced nurses specially trained to the role and newly graduated nurses serving as Epic Implementation Technicians (EITs). The new nurses were working side-by-side with experienced nurses, and they complemented each other perfectly.”

Win No. 3 went to Providence patients. By adding new nurses instead of temporary labor, patients got attention from Providence employees, and the Epic rollout came off with minimal disruption to patient care. And patient care is critically important to Bullard, the daughter of a physician and a nurse.

“Growing up, I learned what a sacred privilege it is to help people who are suffering and vulnerable,” she says. “We are patients’ advocates. Nurses are the ones who are there when everybody else goes home.”

Win No. 4 was a victory of its own. The new nurses who had been hired as EITs became logical candidates for Providence’s nursing residency program, and Providence landed some new employees who were already familiar with its health care facilities.

 “Experienced nurses sometimes find it burdensome to bring a nursing resident up to speed,” Bullard says. “But because the nursing residents had already been part of the Providence system as EITs, they came in familiar with the system and already knew some of the people. In fact some of our nurse managers were competing with each other to hire their favorite EITs to work in their units.”

The successful Epic rollout at five of the six Providence hospitals (Providence Saint John’s Health Center will “go live” in November) is just a sample of the way Bullard approaches her responsibility to the 3,800 nurses she leads. Bullard was also the visionary behind Providence’s Nursing Institute, formed in 2012.

“It is a virtual institute versus a brick-and-mortar institute. The goal is to facilitate the exchange of ideas among various educational and clinical practice experts among Providence’s Southern California facilities,” she explains.

Among the program’s achievements are a regional standardized RN residency program, a common orientation program for nurses and common best practice guidelines. “Instead of each hospital’s team having to invent a wheel, we share the best of what Providence has to offer,” Bullard says.

Bullard, who is participating in a doctoral program for executive leadership in nursing practice, worked at medical facilities all over the country as she followed her husband’s 35-year Navy career. The Bullards raised two daughters and a son and have three grandchildren. When she’s not working, travel and family visits are her priorities. When her husband retired as a rear admiral six years ago, the couple started a vineyard in Paso Robles.

“Who knows if we’ll ever see any grapes,” she jokes. But if the vineyard is half as successful as her work with Providence Health & Services, there will be grapes aplenty.