Turning Dreams Into Realities: My Stroke Program Mission

Healthcare offers so many opportunities for improvement. So why not lead change? Right where you are.

I remember feeling a little stuck in my impact as a nurse. I enjoyed my job, but I wanted to do more and make a bigger difference. Can anyone relate?

Fast forward a few years... I had decided to go to graduate school and had finished my master's degree in nursing. I was working as a hospitalist nurse practitioner, and I intended to finish my doctoral degree in nursing practice, but I wanted to implement a capstone project that was meaningful, not only to me, but to patients. 

I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. I was standing in the hospital corridor just off the third floor elevator, and I was casually chatting with the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and Neurologist. The CMO was interested in expansion and improvement of our stroke program, so the conversation centered around acute stroke and how patients could have better outcomes if they were routed to our hospital, which had thrombectomy capabilities. It was one of those "what if" conversations. What if we could change the system? What if we could become a stroke center? What if we could make things better for our patients? 

The reality (and conclusion) that day was that there were a lot of things we as a healthcare organization could improve internally in order to maximize our impact. We needed to start right where we were. We hadn't even begun to conduct a formal gap analysis; we only recognized the glaring issue in front of us - that patients with stroke-like symptoms deserved to be routed to the facility with the greatest resources for stroke treatment. 

It was in that simple conversation - and in many conversations to follow - that the neurologist shared with me his dream of this particular facility becoming a stroke center. It was something he had wanted to do since he had arrived at the facility years prior - he had even written sample "potential" protocols for it. Dreams on paper. 

My doctoral project evolved from that simple conversation. Once we began looking at the care we were actually providing to this patient population, we uncovered so many areas to improve. So we got to work. With the support of the hospital administration, we began to implement changes. Many of these changes were part of the educational project that was my DNP scholarly capstone project. But this was so much more than an educational project. This was a passion project, and it kept snowballing. 

I finished my doctoral degree. But the work had only just begun. I wrote a proposal for a stroke program coordinator role so that the work could continue. It was approved, and I started getting paid to continue the work. We had identified so many gaps - it's amazing what you can uncover when you take a close look at processes in healthcare. And we were given the authority to fix them! How rewarding. 

Fast forward again. Over the course of a couple years, our facility was able to show significant improvement in our quality data for our stroke program. We applied for The Joint Commission's Primary Stroke Center Certification, which we were granted following a rigorous review earlier this year. 

Since then, the community impact has been enormous. The EMS Commission voted to send all patients with stroke-like symptoms to our facility. Several EMS groups have reached out to me to collaborate to improve pre-hospital stroke care in our region. We are changing macro AND micro systems for the better. And the best part? It is the patient who will ultimately benefit. 

Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the United States and is still in the top 5 causes of mortality nationwide. But we know that early detection and treatment make such a difference for patients and their families. And THAT is my stroke program mission. To improve healthcare for all. 

I truly believe most healthcare professionals go into healthcare because they want to help people. They want to make a difference. But as nurses, we often feel limited in our impact. 

Don't stay stuck. Be the change right where you are. Because your dreams can come true too. 

Want to read more? My stroke program was in the news...and you can read about it here: 



Looking for a passion project but not sure where to start? Send me an email, and let's chat!

Categories: Healthcare Systems, Nurse-Led Change