She’s Got Trauma Street Cred

The chaos. It grabbed ahold of Melissa Hockaday and stuck.

The trauma. The unexpected. The acuity. The saving lives. That’s really what did it -- the saving lives.

There are too many horrific cases to name. Too many that went from horrific to wonderful that drew Hockaday in.

“It’s somebody’s worst day of their life, worst tragedy of their life and they come here and you’re able to care for them and they get better. A lot of times, they get better,” says Hockaday, a trauma nurse practitioner who is service line director for trauma and acute care surgery at IU Health. “And you get to see them again.”

After saving their lives.

***

Texts still come in from Corwin Suits’ mom to Hockaday. She watches Suits with his baby. She watches him becoming an EMS provider.

It’s that draw, the trauma successes, that pulls her in more.

Hockaday was working as a nurse practitioner in trauma when Suits was flown by LifeLine to IU Health Methodist Hospital 10 years ago. It was the day before his senior prom in May.

Such a young life, 18 years old, the trauma surgeons whispered among themselves. They didn’t think Suits would survive. He had a head injury, broken bones. He was torn up on the inside.

Hundreds of days in the hospital, dozens of surgeries and 10 years later, Suits is thriving. 

“Cory, he’s been my buddy for years,” Hockaday says. “You save their lives. You see their families, you see them having babies, getting married. It’s amazing.”

***

These days, Hockaday is saving lives from a different angle. As an administrator, she is overseeing the Methodist trauma production.

Her position comes with a myriad of roles -- supporting the trauma program operations, education, quality, clinical practice, marketing strategy, business development and system quality.

Every day is different. So the chaos and the unexpected are still there. On any given day, Hockaday might be focused on statewide quality scorecards. She might be coaching a new leader. She might be hiring a nurse practitioner. She might be centered on development.

On this day, as Hockaday sat in Methodist, she had just met with marketing. She was strategizing ways to get consumers to come to Methodist when they get hurt.  

Those around Hockaday say they watch her in awe. She “naturally leads through grace and loyalty to her team, the organization and, most notably, the injured trauma patient,” says Jill Castor, a trauma nurse and trauma program manager at IU Health.

Hockaday is well respected at both the state and national level as a trauma leader, Castor says.

“She sets the bar high and is determined to improve patient care through accountability and ownership for successes and failures alike,” she says. “(She) takes pride in the program’s ability to exceed expectations.”

Hockaday says one of her favorite parts of the job is being able to develop new trauma centers in the IU Health system statewide.

“It’s the part of my job that I absolutely love,” Hockaday says. “Because when you see a patient who went to (IU Health) Ball (Memorial Hospital) and they actually were able to save their life there with skills we gave them, the protocols, it’s just really cool to watch that happen.”

But, don’t be mistaken. Administration is tough, Hockaday says. There are days when it can become overwhelming.

And that’s when Hockaday pulls out the white coat and the stethoscope and goes back to that draw – the draw of saving lives.

As an acute care nurse practitioner who staffs the trauma service line and supports 100 surgical advanced practice providers, Hockaday wants to keep her finger on the pulse of her department.

So two days a month, at the least, she goes and sees patients. It keeps up her clinical skills and it keeps her grounded.

“It reminds you of why you’re here, the patient stories,” Hockaday says. “And it gives you street cred. You’re not just an administrator in an office. You’ve got street cred and you really know what’s going on.”  

***

A nurse? Never. Hockaday’s grandma, aunt and mom -- all were nurses.

“So I said, ‘I’m not going to be a nurse. No way,’” Hockaday says.
“I started out in college with everything but nursing. I did physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, psych. ‘I’m not going to be a nurse,’ I said. And I became a nurse.”

And 17 years ago, Hockaday became a nurse in Methodist’s emergency department. She worked the night shift and she loved it.

“All I ever wanted to do was trauma,” she says. “So if I had to be charge nurse or shift coordinator or bribe people to change the schedules so I could get in the trauma room, I did that.”

One night, she decided she wanted to make this trauma thing more permanent. She asked a trauma surgeon how to do that. He told her to become an acute care nurse practitioner.

Eleven years ago, Hockaday became a nurse practitioner in trauma services at Methodist. Just years later, she was managing the program.

***

Organized chaos. It’s how Hockaday describes trauma care. And it’s how she describes her home. She is a 41-year-old married mother of five.

She and her husband, Bob, met at Brownsburg High School and have been married 19 years. They are raising their family in Pittsboro -- daughters Riley, 17, and Erin, 15, and sons, Jake, 10, and Rex and Ryan, 8-year-old twins. 

Balancing career and family, Hockaday has her own take on that.

“When people talk to me about work life balance, I don’t believe there is such a thing. I think it is, ‘What is the priority for today?’” Hockaday says. “Take one day at a time and spend as much quality time as you can with the family.”

And, she says, try to separate so that the focus is always in the appropriate place.

“When I’m here, I’m here,” she says. “And when I’m at home, I’m at home with my family.”

Unless that call comes in, a mass casualty or trauma case that needs her expertise.

And then she’s back, pulled in by the chaos.

More From Hockaday

What does it take to work in trauma? “It takes somebody who can multitask, who can prioritize, for sure. You have to know what’s an emergency and what can wait. It takes somebody who can deal with the unexpected. Your day is never going to be the same. Even my day in administration is never the same. Sometimes, I have to stop what I’m doing to do something else. That’s trauma.” 

How do you prioritize at work? “I always say my people are first. So, my door is always open. It doesn’t matter if I’m working on something that has a deadline. If someone walks in my office, I stop what I’m doing and work with my team.”

Impact at the state and national levels: Hockaday serves on subcommittees of the Indiana State Trauma Care Committee and was president of the Indiana Trauma Network for two years. She is on the leadership section of the board of the Society of Trauma Nurses and is a surveyor for the American College of Surgeons.

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.


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