Legere Named Essence of Nursing Award Recipient
Karen Legere from left: with members of the Tower 5B team; helping patient Sandy Therrien to her feet, with the assistance of her husband, Homer Therrien; and with nursing director Eileen Molina and educator Cathy Rowland.
Sandra Therrien can recall the exact moment she felt an enveloping sense of comfort and reassurance when she first came to BWH for cancer treatment. It was when her primary nurse, Karen Legere, BSN, RN, OCN, stepped into her room on Tower 5B with a smile and a genuine interest in getting to know her.
“The first time Karen walked into my room, I knew immediately that I would be OK and that I’d get better,” said Therrien, a former nurse herself, who spent a month on Tower 5B/Oncology and Palliative Care. “Karen treats everybody like a human being; you just feel very comfortable with her. And she always has a smile when she comes in.”
Establishing this kind of relationship is the very core of Legere’s nursing practice—she strives to make every patient feel known and safe in her care as she supports them through their battle with cancer. On May 10, the Department of Nursing will honor Legere with the Essence of Nursing Award during the Nurse Recognition Dinner.
“Karen’s exquisite skills to know the patient and family, and to have them feel known and cared for, shine through in her nursing care,” said Colleen West, MBA, BSN, RN, CPHQ, Quality Program director for Hematology/Oncology, who nominated Legere for the Essence of Nursing Award, with letters of support from Nursing Director Eileen Molina, MS, RN, Tower 7AB Nursing Director Katie Fillipon, MS, RN, OCN, FNP-BC, and Amanda Moment, LICSW.
The fact that nurses have the ability to establish this kind of relationship with patients at a vulnerable time in their lives is exactly why Legere first decided to pursue a career in nursing, and it has shaped her practice ever since. At age 21, she underwent a surgery that required an eight-day hospitalization. During that time, a young nurse took care of her.
“She spent a lot of time with me and was really committed to making me feel better,” said Legere, recalling the time that the nurse took her to a sink out on the ward so she could wash her hair. “I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. I wanted to be able to do things like that for people.”
Legere, who had worked in a number of specialties as a nurse in the Float Pool before joining Tower 5B Hematology/Oncology in 2006, said that the unit is particularly conducive to developing the close relationship that she seeks to form with her patients. “Our patients tend to come back a lot, so you get to know them very well,” she said.
However, it’s Legere’s intention to develop a relationship with each of her patients and their families, no matter how long they are in her care, that sets her apart. “I spend a lot of time in the room with my patients talking to them and ensuring that they are comfortable talking to me so that they can open up to me,” she said.
One of the questions she is most often asked by colleagues and friends is how she can work on a unit where patients face such a difficult battle with cancer. “There are times when you have to leave and get hold of your emotions, because it sometimes is very sad,” Legere said. “But these patients are so brave—they want to get better so badly, and they are incredibly active in their own care. It’s an honor to be with them at this time in their lives.”
Her expertise in helping patients and families through this journey, with the many physical and emotional issues it entails, is one of the reasons why she was nominated for the Essence of Nursing Award.
“Intensive pain and palliative care service patients are frequently cared for on 5B, and there are often complex ethical issues and heartbreaking situations,” said West. “Karen is an expert oncology nurse and a role model for others, especially when it comes to the care of patients at the end of life.”
When a patient on 5B was readmitted and her goals of care switched from cure to quality and comfort, Legere became her primary nurse. While the patient experienced intractable pain and fevers, Legere and her colleagues supported her and helped her family to understand the extent of her illness—and that her time may be short.
“The patient and family wanted to be home as soon as possible and requested hospice care,” wrote West. “Karen adjusted the patient’s medications to keep her comfortable and more alert and coordinated the transition to home.”
Within a month, the patient passed away, surrounded by friends and family. But Legere’s support of the family continued. Recalling their financial and emotional difficulties, she asked her colleagues to help her create gift lists for the patient’s children and to collect toys and supermarket gift cards to make their holidays brighter that year.
“It is not unusual for me to receive phone calls and visits from former patients or their families just to let me know what a great nurse Karen was and how much she meant to them,” said Molina. “Karen is one of the greatest assets we have at BWH, with unending potential.”
Legere is one of five BWH nurses enrolled in a pilot nursing ethics residency program (see related story on page 1) so that she can become a resource for other nurses faced with the ethical issues that can sometimes manifest with this patient population.
Conflicts may emerge within the team or with a patient’s family regarding the plan of care. Legere ensures that she knows the patient’s wishes and advocates on their behalf. In one case, she uncovered the underlying conflicts that existed within a family that were preventing them from carrying out the patient’s wishes.
“Karen’s ability to listen to the family’s concerns and desires and advocate for regular team meetings resulted in the family’s ability to transition to comfort care,” West said. “Meetings with the health care team and the family helped establish appropriate goals of care.”
Legere has worked in a number of hospitals since she began her nursing career, but she fell in love with the Brigham.
“I have worked in a lot of great places, but the Brigham has the most amazing patient care,” she said. “As nurses, we have an incredible amount of support. There’s always someone coming to your pod—an educator, quality director or director—to make sure you have all the resources you need. You’re not practicing alone.”
Sandra Therrien and Karen Legere connected instantly when they first met.
About Karen Legere
Most rewarding part of being a nurse: The privilege to get to know people and help them through a really challenging time in their lives.
Most enjoys about 5B: Everyone on the Oncology service is so dedicated to their patients—the nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians, physician assistants, social workers, physical therapists, dietitians, patient care assistants and others. We really function as a whole team.
Prior roles: staff nurse on Endoscopy and Organ Transplant units at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and on a high-risk labor and delivery unit at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, Kansas
Education: BSN from Emmanuel College; candidate for MSN at St. Joseph’s College of Maine
Professional Development: enrolled in Clinical Ethics Residency for Nurses Program
Family: three children: Emily, 21, graduated from UMass Lowell with a degree in applied mathematics; Elise, 19, a freshman in the UMass Boston Nursing program; and Evan, 12, a sixth-grader