Thrive by IU Health

November 07, 2021

Retiree returns to the front lines

IU Health Arnett Hospital

Retiree returns to the front lines

“One does not get into healthcare to retire. You do it because you want to answer a calling and make a difference,” explains Deb Pruitt.

After serving several years, as a Veterans Administration (VA) Primary Care Provider, in Utah, Pruitt retired and moved to Otterbein, with her little white dog, to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren. However, it did not take long before she missed her sense of purpose. As she said, there are only so many days, you can spend in a nightgown watching Netflix.

Deb Pruitt

Her dream job was waiting for her at Indiana University Health, working as a nurse practitioner with senior services. Pruitt joined the team, in February 2021, and absolutely loves her team and patients.

During the delta wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital capacity ran high with staffing shortages – especially in nursing. Gaps are usually filled with overtime and travel nurses. After 20 plus months of fighting this pandemic those resources are harder to come by.

The current nursing shortage isn't just in the numbers. Many experienced nurses have left the front lines looking for something less stressful; some even left the field completely. Turnover among early career nurses has been at an all-time high. This is leading to a widening skills gap, creating major implications for all healthcare systems.

IU Health Arnett had the unique idea to pair experienced nurse practitioners with nurses new to the profession and travel nurses. In August, Pruitt was deployed from senior services to the front lines of the hospital. Not a fan initially, Pruitt now says it has been a tremendous blessing in her life.

“It has been 15 years since I wore scrubs. I was nervous,” shared Pruitt. “However, this has been an amazing experience. Our team was able to fill some gaps and make a tremendous difference in patient care and helped to educate young nurses. The inpatient staff were so appreciative to have us “jump in feet first” and join their team!”

As an experienced nurse practitioner, Pruitt served as an advisor on the floor. She was not assigned to patients, but to the floor. The patients who required more care or were safety risks, were priority one. Care is a collaborative effort which includes physicians/hospitalists, pharmacists, nurses, social workers, care managers and patient care companions. Without specific assignments, Pruitt was able to spend more face-to-face time with patients. She envisioned herself as the hands, eyes, and ears of the provider and patient so she could give the team a clear picture of their specific needs. Collaboration during daily, multi-disciplinary rounds was a crucial piece.

“Nurses are taught to be task-oriented. With experience, comes the ability to see the big picture. Asking what does the patient need physically, emotionally and spiritually? Nurses holistically treat patients,” shared Pruitt.

The pilot project helped newer nurses further their skill sets. Assured them that their concerns and questions were valid. Patient satisfaction increased, outcomes and safety measures improved, and overall team member satisfaction rose. Pruitt discovered a few potential safety risks for patients; whereas team members were able to adjust and fix those issues before they could become problematic.

“Asking patients ‘What Matters Most to You?’ is important to their well-being and many times drives patient care,” added Pruitt. “The answers often surprise you because it is rarely about their care but more about making sure their dog is being cared for or their grandkids are safe. With the help of Social Workers, you can often address these issues.”

As a nurse practitioner, Pruitt believes her role is to provide holistic care. She says she has prayed with many patients because they are sick and scared; subsequent referrals to Chaplain Services were made. Explaining to patients what is happening and what will come next helps shed a little light while improving patient outcomes and satisfaction.

Now that deployment is over, Pruitt feels the program was a tremendous success. IU Health Arnett nurses are hard workers and are eager to learn, “It has been a privilege to serve. My time on the floor has been one of the greatest highlights in my career. We were able to truly ‘make a difference’ and that is what nurses do.” Pruitt will miss the inpatient team and the patients. She may even miss those scrubs.

If the call came again? Pruitt would answer in a heartbeat…with a happy heart.

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