Levine Receives Essence of Nursing Award
Chief Nurse Mairead Hickey, PhD, RN, at left, with Essence of Nursing Award recipient Sharon Levine, BSN, RN, and Essence finalists Lynette Wardell, BSN, RN, Patricia Smith-Allen, BSN, RN, Jo Ann Morey, BSN, RN, and Leslie Sabatino, BSN, RN.
In Sharon Levine’s 31-year nursing career—28 at BWH—she has thrived on doing what she loves most, providing direct care to patients and families, teaching the next generation of nurses and continuously expanding her knowledge through scholarship and research.
“We see advances in patient care here at the Brigham that we wouldn’t see anywhere else, and I love the learning and stimulation in this environment,” she said.
Levine is this year’s recipient of the Mary Fay Essence of Nursing Award, one of the hospital’s highest nursing honors, which she received at the Nursing Recognition Dinner in May. In a nomination packet for the award, Levine’s colleagues and managers praised her expert nursing skills, compassion and true commitment to her patients and their families.
“Whenever presented with a challenging situation, Sharon approaches with a ‘how can we do this attitude,’” said Kathleen Ryan Avery, MSN, RN, CCRN, nurse educator, who nominated Levine for the award. “She will assess the situation, determine priorities, confer with all health care team members and develop a plan that best meets the needs of the patient and family. She always puts their needs at the top of the list.”
Levine did exactly that during one of the most challenging cases of her career in 2003. A young woman eight months pregnant with her second child was transferred to Labor and Delivery from another hospital for an emergency C-section. The woman was short of breath, had high blood pressure and was unstable. Her baby was still-born, and she was transferred to the CCU shortly after, where Levine cared for her the next morning.
“She was very withdrawn and depressed,” Levine said. “Near the end of my shift, she said to me: ‘I want to see the baby.’”
Levine worked with a nurse educator in the Connors Center, who warmed the baby and brought him up from the morgue so his mother could hold him. “It was a very scary moment for all of us here because this was not a situation we had experienced before,” Levine said. “I cried five or six times afterward. But this was nursing at its best—nurses from obstetrics and cardiology working together to meet the patient’s needs.”
The next day, the patient made the same request, and this time Levine was terrified, not knowing what to expect more than 48 hours after the baby had been still-born. “But it was so important to her that we made this happen again,” she said. “She needed to hold her baby.”
The patient improved gradually and was sent home. One day, she was readmitted to another unit and Levine visited her. “She said to me that I was one of the few people who had known the baby because she didn’t want any visitors at that time,” Levine said. “She said, “You held him, and we shared that.”
In a shoebox containing precious letters from patients, Levine keeps a Dr. Seuss quote that the woman had sent her: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
“Sharon’s practice demonstrates what excellent nursing care at Brigham and Women’s Hospital means to each of our patients in the CCU,” said Karen Reilly, MBA, RN, nurse manager of Shapiro 9 and 10. “She approaches each patient and family as if they were her own and ensures that their individual needs are met.”
Levine’s earliest experience in nursing involved her family.
When she was in high school, her older brother, a healthy athlete, suddenly developed a neurological illness that would claim his life four years later at age 20. Levine’s parents set up care for him at home with a hospital bed and equipment. “We all helped to take care of him,” said Levine. “That was a pivotal point in my life because I decided I would like to be in the medical field and nursing was the way to do it.”
After graduating from the University of Rhode Island’s nursing program, Levine took a job on a step-down unit at Rhode Island Hospital for a year before she moved to North Carolina and began as a nurse in the MICU at Duke University Medical Center. She came back to New England when her boyfriend (now husband) got a fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital. One of his fellow residents told Levine she should apply at BWH because he had done several rotations here as a medical student and “the nurses seemed really happy,” she said. “So I applied.”
Though she had been hoping for a MICU position similar to the one she left behind at Duke, Levine was placed in the CCU. “I fell in love with it,” she said.
In her 28 years here, she has left the CCU only for three years to work in the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory in 1985. There, she and two other nurses developed a separate room outside of the CCU for all cardioversions, transplant biopsies, permanent pacemakers and any procedure requiring conscious sedation and close cardiac monitoring. As the transplant program grew, the room became very busy. During that time, Levine worked to develop policies and procedures for the Cath Lab and treatment room, and her greatest mentor in doing so was Mary Fay, the hospital’s chief nursing officer at the time.
“It’s ironic that I’m getting this award named for her so many years later,” Levine said.
Levine re-joined the CCU when she became pregnant with her oldest son, Evan, who is now 20 and attends Cornell University. She and her husband Mitch, a physician at a private practice in Newton-Wellesley now have another son, Jonathan, age 17, and they live in Newton.
Levine’s commute home to Newton from the Brigham via the Green Line is an especially important part of her day: 25 minutes reserved for self-review. “I think about the shift I’ve just worked and reflect on patient care and family support,” she said. “I know what interventions worked and what aspects of nursing care need to be targeted. This review helps me bring my nursing care to a different level, focus on the needs of the patient and decompress from the busy day.”
Levine herself is a crucial part of the learning experience for newly-licensed nurses and nurses just beginning at BWH.
“There is no technical aspect of her work that is not performed with the highest skill, and as a great teacher, no technique that she cannot pass along to another,” said Elazer Edelman, MD, PhD, FACC, of the Cardiovascular Division. “I have often seen junior nurses enthralled as she mentors them. There is no piece of her patients’ history, presentation or course that escapes Sharon, and in every respect, she is the consummate care provider.”
In addition to precepting, Levine, who loves to teach, is an instructor in the Intra-Aortic Balloon Pump (IABP) course with Theresa Seeley, RN, of the Cardiac Surgery ICU. The course is held three times a year for nurses in the Cath Lab, Cardiac Surgery and the CCU.
She also strives to improve the practice of nursing through committee work. She was a member of the first Ethics Committee at BWH, and served a second term recently. Now, she is a member of the Nursing Practice Committee, which formed in 2008 to advise on how to preserve and extend the excellence that is in the practice of nurses at BWH throughout the hospital.
“I am a very lucky person because I can do all of my favorite things: first and foremost, bedside patient care,” Levine said. “Everything else is a close second: teaching, committee work and filling in for the charge nurse role every third weekend. It’s a very stimulating environment. I get to do all of the things I love.”