From left, Mairead Hickey, Marji Rogers, Marian Fitzgerald, Ellie Bergin Ericson, Karen Reilly and MaryAnne Bennett at the Nursing Recognition Dinner.
CBS4 television show host Liz Walker asked Eleanor Bergin Ericson, BSN, RN, why she became a nurse. Bergin Ericson’s response was simple: “My mother told me to.”
Countless patients and families she has cared for during her 25 years at BWH are grateful Bergin Ericson followed her mother’s advice. One patient and his family in particular remember Bergin Ericson’s compassion, strength and skill more than two decades later.
Twenty-two years ago in April, Bergin Ericson cared for a patient who was admitted to the Surgical Intensive Care Unit after a car accident. The 20-year-old man endured three surgeries resulting in bilateral high thigh amputations. The body image alteration was tragic for the man who had just found the courage to ask the girl of his dreams out for a date. The patient, Brian, was the brother of Bergin Ericson’s SICU colleague, Margaret Bernazzani, RN, who will never forget the compassion Bergin Ericson extended.
“We, as a family, were so fortunate to have Ellie care for my brother,” Bernazzani said. “We knew his physical wounds would heal; our worries were his emotional and psychological sores.”
Bergin Ericson was the only nurse to whom Brian would respond, Bernazzani said. “He would say things like, ‘She gets me. She listens to me. She knows when to leave me alone and when to bug me,’” Bernazzani said. “So subtle, but so vital, her oneness with him and with all her patients allows her to enter into a healing relationship on many levels as dictated by the patient’s unique needs. This partnership becomes her commitment to her patients.”
A truly skilled nurse with the ability to connect with and nurture patients and their families, Bergin Ericson received this year’s Mary S. Fay Essence of Nursing Award. “Ellie’s dedication to her patients, families and the practice of nursing make her an example to not only nurses, but all caregivers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital,” said Mairead Hickey, PhD, RN, chief nursing officer and senior vice president of Patient Care Services.
Bergin Ericson has established herself as a leader and go-to person on the SICU. She is instrumental in educational efforts for nurses and the incorporation of best practices in the SICU. Nurses, residents, attending physicians and other caregivers often seek her guidance when caring for patients.
In a letter of recommendation for Bergin Ericson, Selwyn Rogers, Jr., MD, MPH, chief of Trauma, Burns and Surgical Critical Care, noted an instance when she helped young children deal with the impending death of their young father. “As she held his kids as if she were their mother, I was touched by the power of touch and caring exemplified in that simple act,” he wrote. “She is a role model for the young nurses and residents alike as an example of how the secret of caring for a patient is to care about the patient.”
Dedicated to her profession, Bergin Ericson serves as a preceptor for less experienced nurses. “She inspires confidence in others through her guidance and support,” said Karyl Davenport, MS, RN, nurse manager of the SICU. “She believes in her profession and the need to assure younger staff members are prepared to bring value to the experiences of hospitalized patients and their families.”
While taking her work with the utmost seriousness, Bergin Ericson also understands the importance of humor for patients and staff. Bernazzani recalled a crusade led by Bergin Ericson to raise funds to purchase new dopplers. “The ‘Dimes for Dopplers’ campaign was not a financial success, but it generated plenty of laughs,” Bernazzani said. “Her quirky drives go a long way to promote fun and camaraderie in an often stressful environment.”
Bergin Ericson, a mother of three, has worked in the SICU, the ICU Nurse Float Pool and the Cardiac Surgical ICU. She also has worked as a staff nurse at the Boston V.A. Medical Center and Mount Auburn Hospital. Bergin Ericson is a member of the American Association of Critical Care Nurses. At BWH, she serves as a team leader for the Unit-Based Practice Group for Infection Control and a member of the team developing guidelines to address end-of-life issues in the SICU.
“Ellie’s professional life is where the standards of awards should be set for all,” said Gyorgy Frendl, MD, PhD, director of Surgical Critical Care Research. “When the very best care is delivered without much fanfare and when patients and families alike can feel the competence while being cared for by someone who acts like another family member, nursing perfection is attained.”