From Bedside Nurse to Frontline Support –

HPI Sits Down with Carolyn Clancy, MSN, APRN, CNS, and Gail Heflin, RN to learn about their unique paths to healthcare

Carolyn Clancy and Gail Heflin, both started their careers as nurses at the hospital bedside, but neither expected to end up there. From dreams of working outdoors to leading PR for Disney, these individuals took a hard turn toward healthcare. Read more about their unique journey’s and why we celebrate their work, here.

Q: How did you become a nurse?

Carolyn: I didn’t always know I wanted to be a nurse, I spent some time in Colorado doing a bunch of hiking and backpacking. During that time my friends, family, and others told me I should be a nurse, that I would bring “a lot of sunshine into patient’s rooms.” I always tucked that away while I was trying to find myself. One day, years later, and I found myself in a hospital – my best friend had a horrible, traumatic car accident and lost his life. As he was dying, I watched his parents grieve and try to understand what was going on so they could make the right decisions for him. That’s when I saw the gap in healthcare.

Gail: My dream job when I started college was not to become a nurse, ironically. I wanted to be a public relations director at Disney World. Halfway through junior year, I had a class that was a mental roadblock for me. I wasn’t clicking, and it was a required course. I called my sister and said I don’t know what to do, and she randomly said, why don’t you become a nurse?  The next day I made an appointment with the Nursing School and that became my path forward.

Q. How did you become involved with Patient Blood Management?

Carolyn: Early on in my nursing career I worked briefly on an ortho neuro floor, but quickly settled into my passion area – surgery and trauma. After several years, moved up to a level one academic and trauma center to serve as their preoperative educator. Through that experience i started partnering with the blood bank on cell salvage regulatory and safety requirements. Together, we worked through and tore down the silos that served as barriers to our common goals: To meet regulatory requirements for the use of blood products, but moreover for to ensure the right product gets to the right patient for the right reasons, in the right dose, at the right time.

Gail: It was kind of funny how it all happened. I was working in the Cath Lab at the heart center here in Indianapolis. In a Cath Lab you have to wear 15 pounds of lead and it was a busy, busy Cath Lab. I had to take a leave of absence  due to a back injury. My doctor told me I shouldn’t go back to wearing lead full time so it forced me to look for another job. When I started looking for one, I started looking at available jobs and there was a job at the same hospital for a Transfusion Safety Coordinator. I Googled, Transfusion Safety Officer, to do a little interview prep and there was minimal information. I went in prepared to convince them that I was passionate and can learn quickly. Low and behold, I was chosen for the position!

Q. Throughout the course of your education or experience in the field, how were you trained to handle an epidemic?

Gail: All in all, nursing school is just that, nursing school. It taught you the book stuff, but you’re not trained for anything you really need to know as a nurse until you become a nurse and get on the floor and work. Whether it’s a massive transfusion protocol activation, a person coding, or in cardiac arrest, you act based on experience. They have things like mock codes, and mass shooting training drills, but it does not truly prepare you for when something like this happens. Until you’re in the middle of one (a pandemic), it’s just you and those around you, and how everyone is going to react differently.

Q. Do you think those experiences prepared you for our current epidemic/pandemic?

 Gail: I don’t. I had a position congruent to my current position right now and worked as needed in our level one trauma center in Indianapolis. I’m in contact with a lot of folks and nurses that still work there, and they said nothing, nothing on this earth prepared us for what we are having to do. We are learning as we go.  I think we are better nurses, doctors, healthcare providers because of it, and it’s definitely helped us grow. If you work in an ER anywhere, you could probably handle about anything now.

Q. Throughout the course of your education or experience in the field, how were you trained to handle an epidemic?

 Carolyn: I would agree with Gail in that experience plays a very heavy hand in how you respond to certain things, and that’s where the importance of the mock and simulation training comes into play. In undergrad we receive the building blocks for critical thinking.  No one can be prepared for every situation that comes at you, but you can apply what you know to novel situations and still provide excellent patient care.  The significance of that is your training gives you the critical thinking skills; it trains you in the way you should think.  I received my master’s as an advanced practice nurse, clinical nurse specialist, after my undergrad, and I feel like a few more lightbulbs started to click then.  It really prepares you for how to approach complex patient care.

Q. Do you think those experiences prepared you for our current epidemic/pandemic?

Carolyn: I feel like our education did prepare us. Again, I think it was a building block, that gives us the critical thinking skills. We know anatomy and physiology. We know how the body works. We know infection control and germ transmission. We know about hygiene and how it’s all related to the health and wellbeing of our patients. I think you absolutely have to have those experiences to combine that, to get that head knowledge to your fingertips in 30 seconds or less. The simulations can prepare you, but it’s very difficult to try and anticipate all the potential barriers or potential opportunities that might come up. I think the longer you are a nurse…, the more you know…, the more you know you don’t know. – And, we have to remember that, that even though we are educated, we have to come together as a team with our physicians and other healthcare workers to build the plan. Together, we’re going to continue to learn and get better at combatting this new because this is a new virus. We’re going to keep learning about it while we’re applying the knowledge that we already have, and we are going to be better tomorrow than we are today And we’re making a difference as a result.

Q. With that said, how do you think your current clients are responding to the current crisis?

Gail:They are being very mindful of anything they can do to minimize a shortage of blood. One of my clients had leadership email a list of things asking if “we’ve done everything we can to mitigate a blood shortage at this health system.   She was happy to tell them that  she’s done all of it because of the work they have been doing around Patient Blood Management for the past 3 years.

Carolyn:I’d have to echo what Gail was saying – that if they have a strong comprehensive  patient blood management program, then they’re likely already prepared for the possibility of a blood shortage.  If clients are already using the highest evidence-based practice that they can, then they’ll likely already have all the procedures in place to mitigate the possible concerns.

Q. How do you think you are personally profoundly impacting healthcare?

Gail: What we do really does impact healthcare because we are making sure a very precious resource (blood), and all blood products, are being utilized appropriately and available for those patients that desperately need them, the cancer patients, the OB hemorrhages, the trauma victims that are still coming in.  I feel like what we do is so important. We may not be there caring for the patients, but we are helping to guide the nurses and the physicians to make the right decisions on who needs that blood and who doesn’t. We’re lucky. I live in a large city, so we don’t have to choose between saving a mom that’s hemorrhaging and saving an 18-year-old that was in a car accident because we don’t have enough blood. We are very fortunate, because I have spoken with people that live in rural areas that have been faced with those decisions. I hope that what we do will impact a hospital no matter where they are to never have to make that choice on who’s life to save.

Carolyn: I think by implementing our initiatives throughout health systems, hitting all of the different medical specialties in there and including nursing, the blood bank, the lab – it all impacts the patients. It’s always about the patient -the patient is the center of everything that you do. When I was a bedside nurse, I had a passion to ensure that every patient that I touched received the best possible care that I could provide. I felt that I achieved that. I wanted to expand, so I went into education so I could reach more nurses and ensure that those nurses then have the knowledge to impact more patients. Then I got the opportunity to impact health systems. If I can impact a whole system, I can touch even more patients. Now I’m, blessed to work with multiple systems across the country, helping others to always do the next right thing for patients. What we do makes a difference. We are profoundly impacting healthcare.

For the full interview with Gail Heflin and Carolyn Clancy, listen to our podcast next month.

Carolyn Clancy MSN, APRN, CNS

Carolyn Clancy MSN, APRN, CNS

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Gail Heflin

Gail Heflin

RN, Client Delivery Lead
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