Kendra Stephens "is a shining example of what it takes to be a Clinical Excellence Award winner," wrote Shirley Roman, one of Kendra's colleagues, in her nomination letter. "She sets high standards for herself when caring for patients with high-acuity needs or when being a comforting presence for stable patients."
The nomination cites some of Kendra's professional skills in The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center surgical intensive care unit (SICU), but nothing paints a more compelling picture of Kendra at work than this anecdote:
"Kendra was assigned to care for a critically ill burn patient whom the physicians did not expect to survive 24 hours. … Emotions were extremely high, and the patient was also a young mother, like Kendra.
"Kendra greeted the patient's parents as they approached the room. Their daughter was unrecognizable, but Kendra remained calm and answered all of their questions. She also held the mother in a warm hug as she cried over her daughter.
"One of Kendra's co-workers who observed the interactions commented, 'I remember thinking how proud I was to be a nurse that day; we comfort and console when we need to. Kendra is an amazing nurse whom we should all aspire to be.'"
Tell us about yourself.
I first attended The Ohio State University and received a degree in history. I worked for many years with adults and children with developmental disabilities in a group-home setting, then in a case-management setting. I decided to return to school in 2000 for a nursing degree and graduated from Mount Carmel College of Nursing in 2003 and came directly here to work in the surgical intensive care unit at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.
Where did you grow up? What led you to Ohio State?
I grew up in northwest Ohio and came to Columbus to attend The Ohio State University. The tradition of the Ohio State Buckeyes and the idea of moving to a bigger city drew me to Columbus and Ohio State. Once I moved here, I loved living in Columbus, so I stayed here to make it my home.
Where do you work and what type of patients do you work with?
I work in the SICU and have been here for more than 14 years. We care for the most critically ill patients in the area, including trauma, burn, transplant and any surgical patient requiring the highest level of care available.
What drew you to the field?
The first time through college, it took me some time to decide what was right for me, which would explain the history degree. During this time, I volunteered at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center in the emergency department and then in the patient transportation department. I really got a sense of what it was like to work in a hospital, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.
We're told you're adept at building relationships with patients and other providers. Are there certain strategies you use?
I honestly get along with everyone and rarely have any type of conflict with anyone. With a few minutes of sincere listening, understanding and patience, I find it easy to build relationships. It is unbelievably easy if you treat others how you want to be treated and care for others the way you would want for yourself or loved ones.
How do you advocate for your patients?
Patient advocacy is so important in critical care. As nurses, we spend the most time with patients and their families while they are in our care. Our patients are in the most vulnerable position of their lives, when they can't advocate for themselves. Voicing what a patient needs or doesn't need, what they would want or wouldn't want is a huge responsibility that I don't take lightly. It is so important to not be afraid to speak up for them.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Aside from managing patients who are critically ill with extremely high acuity, which can be very high-pressure, the most challenging part is when a patient assignment sticks with you long after your shift has ended.
In the SICU, we encounter patients and families who are experiencing unexpected and unthinkable grief. As the bedside nurse, I have to care for the patient and the family simultaneously. While I am managing a very complex situation, I am trying to educate the family and provide comfort. And, sometimes, despite our most heroic efforts, it's not enough. I sometimes replay what I have said and done, hoping I was enough.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Being in the SICU is really overwhelming and scary for patients and families. Helping them to better understand what is happening helps to alleviate the fear. I really enjoy sharing my knowledge with patients and families. I love to educate them on what is happening. I feel I am really good at explaining it in a way that they can understand.
I love establishing that trusting relationship between myself and the patient/family. I want them to know I am competent, aware, and will do everything I can to help them. When I hear them tell me that's how they feel about my care, I feel rewarded.
I also love to hear about patients doing well, living their lives after leaving the hospital. That is my goal: to get them back to their families and their lives as soon as I can.
Empathy is a word we see repeatedly connected with you. How do you think you embody that quality?
No matter who it is or what the circumstance, we are dealing with people, human beings who have their own struggles and needs. Most of these struggles and needs we are not even aware exist.
One of the most poignant quotes I live by and remind myself of even when I find myself getting frustrated is, "Be kind; everyone is fighting some sort of battle." I may not know what it is, but I know it is there for everyone. I've read that versions of this quote date back to long ago, so I don't know which wise person said it first. But I do know that it has shaped the person I am today.
What else should we know about you?
I want to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible nurses in the SICU. These are the smartest, most dedicated, hardest working people I know. Most people don't have the opportunity to see the work we do in the SICU, and I am here to tell you that it is nothing short of amazing, and I think they should be commended!
On a personal note, I have been married to my husband for over 20 years. I also have three wonderful children, ages 18, 13 and 11.
Thank you, Kendra, for Improving People's Lives!