HINES, Ill. — Being at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital to kick off the facilitys National Nurses Week celebration was a short commute for Cathy Rick, RN, MSN, NEA-BC, FACHE.
Rick, who serves as the chief nursing services officer for the Veterans Health Administration, leaves for work in Washington, D.C., every Sunday from her home near Milwaukee.
“Dont feel sorry for me,” Rick told a group of nurses May 7 at the Hines VAs Nursing Recognition & Award Ceremony. “This is my home.”
For the past 12 years, Rick has served as the top nurse in the VA healthcare system, which has a nursing workforce of more than 77,000. Along with celebrating nurses at Hines, she encouraged them to push healthcare forward, to be involved in positive change and offered support for nurses direct from the national office.
“We have a boatload of talent, and we have a big boat to keep turning,” Rick said. “We need you engaged and working on this all the time. You need to understand what’s happening here at Hines and in the nursing community,” she said. “And beyond understanding it, you need to shape it. In order to shape it, you need to be engaged. In order to be engaged, you need to be empowered.”
The festivities also included unit and clinic open houses throughout the week, including on the Spinal Cord Injury/Residential Care Facility unit. Nurses and staff members gave tours of SCI/RCF to visitors, offered refreshments and displayed posters.
“This is an opportunity for people to see what’s happening in our units,” said Carol A. Gouty, RN, MSN, PhD, CNA, BC, associate director of patient care services and CNO at Hines.
Ricks address included a discussion of the Institute of Medicines 2010 report, “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health.” Among the reports recommendations is for nurses to engage in lifelong learning, something Rick acknowledged is a strength of VA nursing.
“That is pretty much what the VA is all about,” Rick said while encouraging nurses to seek educational opportunities. “Its just like communication. Communication goes both ways. If youre thirsty, you should go seek it. If youre not thirsty, you might not be in the right spot. If you want to do what’s right for your patients and your coworkers, you should always be wondering, ‘What about that?”
Rick said visiting VA facilities around the country has been a valuable part of her tenure. “Bottom line, it keeps me real,” she said. “I often learn about new initiatives. I look for trends.”
While on visits, Rick often sees new construction projects, like the one currently underway at Hines, but prefers to spend time with nurses. “To me, I dont care what the buildings like,” she said. “I enjoy the conversation. I get to ask (nurses), ‘What makes your day great? What makes your day a challenge? That opens up conversations to help me do my job better.”
Being the voice for nursing on a national level is something Rick regards as “a privilege,” especially during National Nurses Week.
“This is a way to step back and think about accomplishments,” she said. “Thats the most meaningful to me.”
Growing up, Rick said two professional paths were on her mind. “Nurse or nun,” she said, evoking laughter. “I think it was just kind of my character that I always wanted to help.”
But being head of the national VA office is not something everyone aspires to reach. “Know what your passion is and work toward that passion,” Rick said. “Not everybody wants to do what Im doing. I am so thankful that we have people who want to be a third-shift staff nurse anywhere. That is someone to hold in high regard.”
Barry Bottino is a regional editor.