StaciCarterActive surgical ICU nurse also practices law

Few nurses get a chance to know their patients as thoroughly as Staci Carter.

This 2019 Excellence in Service Award winner helps lung transplant patients navigate a path to recovery from surgery and return to their lives. Her deep interest in each of their cases makes that road a little easier to travel.

“Staci’s first priority in her job is her patients. For many years, she was the first person they spoke with on referral to lung transplant. She knows many of them inside and out,” says Tonya Yurjevic, a lung transplant coordinator who works with Carter at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

"The patients trust Staci and consistently call and ask for her by name,” Yurjevic says. “They send her pictures of their grandchildren, share graduation stories with her, and many other accomplishments that they are able to have due to her taking care of them before and after transplant, allowing them to be successful and healthy.

“When one of the patients seems a little ‘off,’ Staci often knows that something is wrong before they do because she knows them so well. She is able to provide the best nursing care because of this.”

Tell us a little about yourself.

I began working at Ohio State in 2002 as a student nurse associate in Labor and Delivery. I received my associate degree in nursing from Columbus State University in 2003 and was accepted into the cardiothoracic nurse internship program at Ohio State after graduating. It was a 12-week program where we rotated through different areas and I fell in love with the cardiac surgery population and knew that was where I wanted to start. I was a part of the inaugural staff to open the Ohio State Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital and worked on 4 Ross until I became a lung transplant coordinator in July 2006.

Where are you from originally and what led you to Ohio State?

I am from a little town in southeastern Ohio called Duncan Falls but moved to the Columbus area for good in 1996. After all my clinical rotations around Columbus, I fell in love with Ohio State. I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else!

What drew you to the field and the role you play at the medical center?

I really didn’t know what to expect when I became a transplant coordinator. I have always liked challenges, but little did I know that this role would be what I was meant to do in my career.

Where do you work and what type of patients do you work with?

My office is in Doan Hall on the 8th floor, where I am most days. We have post-transplant clinic twice a week in the Ross ACC.

I have done a little bit of everything in my coordinator role but am now a post-transplant coordinator. In this role, I take care of lung transplant patients after they are discharged from the hospital. I make sure they are scheduled for their follow-up appointments and procedures, educate them on their medications, make sure they are getting their labs drawn, reviewing abnormal test results and medication refills requests with physicians and following through on those physician orders. Education is always ongoing with this patient population.

I also attend meetings (program and research) as part of a team to help conduct education for Ross nursing before they can care for heart and lung transplant patients, help facilitate our lung transplant support group, participate on several committees, and also maintain regulatory responsibilities required by the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare Services and Ohio Department of Health.

What’s the most important aspect of your job?

The patients are the most important aspect of my job followed closely by the collaboration among our amazing team of surgeons, pulmonologists, nurses, social workers, our office associates and other ancillary teams that help make this program great. Although we have grown quickly over the last few years, patient-centered care is still the No. 1 priority, and everyone plays a role making sure it stays that way!

What enables you to excel at developing relationships with patients?

I strive to treat my patients like they are my family. Taking the time to get to know them, their spouses, partners, children, parents — even the family pets — is very important in establishing a solid, trusting relationship. I want to make sure the patient understands that we are here to help guide them through their post-transplant journey.

Which of the medical center’s core values do you most identify with and why?

I feel like I most identify with empathy. Our lung recipients go through a variety of emotions during this process — everything from fear to excitement. It’s important to be mindful of these feelings and work to ease any fears by being compassionate and understanding. They find comfort in knowing we are a phone call away and that someone from our team is available 24/7.

Educating patients is a big part of your role. How do you approach that?

We have a standard way we set up our post-transplant education, but we tailor it to each individual patient. Everyone learns differently and it’s important to figure out which way works best for the patient. Education starts in the pre-transplant phase, so we sometimes are able to figure out quickly what approach we will take so the patient and their caregivers feel confident when they are discharged.

What’s the most challenging part of your job? What’s the most rewarding part?

The most challenging part of my job is when we lose a patient. We follow this patient population so closely that any loss is heartbreaking and it’s like losing a family member. It is such an honor to be present during these times of loss with the patient and their families.

The most rewarding part of my job is going through experiences with the patients and their families after transplant. Without the donor and donor families and the gift of lung transplant, many of our patients would not have been alive for weddings, graduations, the birth of grandchildren or taking vacations. I get to share in the excitement of discontinuing their oxygen, hearing the appreciation of just being able to take a shower and wash their hair without getting short of breath, doing laundry, going to the grocery store, going back to work and just participating in life!

What else should we know about you?

I am a wife and mother of three children, two boys, Chase, 23, and Cade, 17, and a daughter, Peyton, 20. I have an amazing husband and we are new grandparents to a beautiful little girl, Luciana! I love sports and enjoy traveling. I am so blessed to work with an amazing lung transplant team, especially my LOLs (Ladies of Lung) — you know who you are!

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