By Bethany BROWN
USC Verdugo Hills Hospital celebrated National Nurses Week (May 6 to May 12) by hosting wellness events, music concerts, continuing education and professional development opportunities. It also held recognition ceremonies for nurses’ professional contributions and clinical achievements. The intent was to recognize in-house nurses for their many sacrifices and contributions.
Two well-respected nursing professionals – Dr. Maria O’Rourke and Lauren Wright – have been on-site offering their expertise and support. Dr. O’Rourke was instrumental in rewriting the California Nursing Practice Act in 1974 and has presented extensively on her Role-Driven Practice theory at regional and national venues. Wright is CEO and founder of The Natural Nipple, a 3D printing nipple company, and is a multi-million dollar recipient of government funding for small business innovation research.
“These events contribute to the ongoing efforts within the nursing division to build expert practitioners, compassionate clinical educators, evidence-based leaders and patient-centered innovators,” said Leah Korkis, (MSN, RN, AGCNS), director of Clinical Education and Nursing Excellence at USC-VHH.
Korkis emphasized that the celebratory week always means a lot to the nurses but more so this year after the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, she extended her gratitude for the people in the community who have continuously offered compassion and encouraged the care team to continue to serve in times of uncertainty.
“It was a difficult time,” she said. “We were being pulled into different roles, working tirelessly, and it just became about sustaining our team and ourselves at that point. We were blown away by the outpouring of community support; it really kept us going.” She recalled people bringing flowers, food and shampoo/conditioner so that staff could shower before going home to their families.
“And now, during Nurses Week, we’re seeing reputable speakers come out and want to continue to lift us up by speaking into the hearts and souls of our nurses to reclaim their hope and spirit for this profession and this calling. We just can’t thank enough those who have seen us,” Korkis said.
Ashley Kimmel, (BSN, RN), manager of Clinical Education and Nursing Excellence, echoed Korkis’ gratitude and said the best part about Nurse’s Nurses Week is that it brings everybody together and highlights the value that the care team brings to the hospital.
“No matter what area or specialty we work in, it does a great job at unifying us and reminding us that we’re all in this together,” she said. “It takes every single one of us to provide the best care for our patients and community.”
Kimmel added that it has been interesting to watch their roles as nurses evolve during the pandemic and to come together in a week of celebration is as refreshing as it is important when it comes to recognizing the unwavering strength the team has shown.
“COVID really propelled us in a different direction that I don’t think we were ready or prepared for but, because we are nurses, because we have that inner strength and ability to adapt quickly to situations, we saw ourselves excel in a way I don’t think we would have without the pandemic,” Kimmel said. “We were forced into a position of persevering through the unknown, and we could not have done it without each other.”
Both Korkis and Kimmel have observed an increase in applicants for the RN New Grad Residency Program since the onset of the pandemic, which they are overjoyed about because the response wasn’t expected.
The 18-week program is designed to help graduate nurses transition into professional nurses while enhancing clinical competence. Participants develop clinical proficiency through supervised clinical experience, with an emphasis on clinical application, in the hospital setting. It is designed around the goal of providing a nurturing, enriching environment where new RNs can safely and effectively care for patients independently.
“The strain that has been put on nurses these last few years is tremendous; so to see not only so many of us still here, but to see so many newly graduated students express a passion and desire to get into the field and work alongside us despite all that has happened … it has been incredibly moving to see,” Korkis said.
According to Korkis, the goal with the program is to empower the students and give them the knowledge and skills to be able to do their jobs well and provide the best care for patients. She feels fortunate that at USC-VHH there is a strong administration team, a consistency in messaging and a vast support system, among others positive aspects.
Kimmel said the growing interest is also appreciated because the students know what they’re getting into but still want to serve others, even if it means potentially risking their own health and/or comfort to do so.
“They know the potential of this career choice is to be committed in a way that you would have to push through and practice in an environment within uncertainty,” she said. “Nursing truly is a profession as much as it is a calling.”
Aliana Di Piazza – a third generation nurse who grew up in the Crescenta Valley and a January 2022 graduate of the New Graduate Program – said she was “blown away” by the amount of support extended to her from the entire hospital staff, as well as from the community, as she navigated through the program during a pandemic.
“It was a great introduction to the hospital and the world of nursing,” she said. “We were able to work in the units that interested us and develop such strong support systems outside of our regular units with other new grads and staff. Overall, it really helped to make us feel comfortable in what we’re doing as well as make us feel safe during the pandemic.”
Di Piazza said her experience in the program only solidified that she made the right career choice and furthered her deeply rooted passion for serving others, shared by her mother and grandmother before her. Specifically, she said she has always felt a pull towards women’s health. Fortunately, a position opened in that unit shortly after her program’s completion and she was brought on full time. Her goal is to transition from postpartum to labor and delivery.
“It’s a great feeling to come back to my roots,” she said, referring to her birth at the hospital in 1999 and that her mother started her own career there decades ago. “Everybody is so friendly and helpful, and I certainly feel seen and appreciated every single day. It’s a small enough hospital where you get to see familiar faces that can just brighten even the hardest of days; you don’t feel like you’re getting swallowed in or lost in the shuffle of things.”