Politano Receives Essence of Nursing Award
Sandra Dougal, Catherine Hogan, Karen Politano, Mairead Hickey, Samantha Leonard and Paula Trabucco at the Nursing Recognition Dinner.
When Karen Politano, BSN, RN, was assigned to care for a critically ill patient with an uncertain outcome, her engagment and compassion were palpable. Though her patient often felt angry and depressed about his illness, Politano helped give him a sense of control by including him and his family in the development of his care plan, including the schedule for his evening walk and the time of dressing changes.
She bonded with his family, comforting his wife and providing practical advice on balancing her home life with visiting her husband. Politano helped her patient celebrate achievements, such as when he first got out of bed for an activity, his first walk and first meal in the hospital. She also encouraged his family to bring in pictures of loved ones for his room.
In ways both big and small, Politano makes it a point to get to know her patients as people, understanding their needs and including their families in her process every step of the way, which is the essence of excellence in nursing practice. For her strong connections with and advocacy for patients and families, Politano’s colleagues nominated her for the 2010 Essence of Nursing Award, which she received in May.
“I have always wanted to be a bedside nurse; I love that interaction with patients,” said Politano, who joined the Cardiac Surgery staff 21 years ago at BWH. “The more I do it, the more I like it.”
Her director and educator regularly receive positive feedback from patients and their families, thanking Politano for the many extra steps she takes to ensure their needs are met.
“The greatest testimonials to the effectiveness of individual nurses are often obtained from the sickest of patients and families when they return months later in the clinic having regained their health,” said Gregory Couper, MD, in a letter supporting Politano’s nomination. “They have expressed tremendous
appreciation for Karen’s care over and over again.”
Politano was recently among nurses on the unit who stepped up to care for an 11-year-old patient requiring coronary bypass surgery she could not receive at a pediatric hospital.
“Karen immediately offered to help in the preparation for the patient’s admission,” said nurse educator Maria Bentain-Melanson, MSN, RN, who nominated Politano for the award. “She researched the latest evidence on nursing care for school-aged children and sought information and educational inservices for caring for this patient. The family expressed gratitude over the extensive preparation the staff made for their daughter.”
Politano believes that one can never stop learning in nursing, especially when it comes to tailoring care based on each patient’s unique needs.
“Everything used to be cookie-cutter, but now care is so individualized to each patient’s needs,” she said. “I don’t think you can ever get to the point where you can think you know it all.”
Politano is a contributor to the leadership model in the ICU, participating in the unit-based clinical colleague group that identifies care needs in the unit, reviews the latest research and develops and revises standards of care. She was among a group of nurses to apply for and receive a Lilly Kravitz Award to focus on preventing pressure ulcers in the post-operative cardiac surgery patient population.
“This group of nurses will learn from various hospitals about best practices and then present the findings to the colleague group and develop and facilitate education and practice changes in our ICU,” said nursing director Matt Quin, BSN, RN.
Part of her quest to continuously learn revolves around helping others learn. As a preceptor to nurses new to the ICU, Politano works to help them find the answers to their questions when she isn’t sure and encourage them to share that new knowledge with others.
“The new nurses come in with such great attitudes and are excited to learn,” she said. “They have good thoughts and skills and really keep you on your toes. They energize me, and we all evolve together.”
Her colleagues view her as a resource and someone they can ask for support.
“Karen was always there for me with a helping hand or supporting me with the knowledge and leadership to help me take care of critically ill patients,” recalled Quin about his first weeks as an ICU staff nurse several years ago. “Her support during that time was what I needed to be successful.”
For Politano, every area of her practice revolves around the patient as a person.
“In an environment that depends on many intensive technologies, it can be easy to focus solely on data and equipment,” Quin said. “Karen has not forgotten that the patients we are treating are people, and she embraces and prioritizes the human side of nursing by always treating her patient and their family with dignity, respect and compassion. Karen exemplifies the model for superb professional practice.”
Families of patients still remain in touch with Politano after their loved ones have been discharged, underscoring the impact a single nurse can have on one person’s life. “My dad died of cancer when I was in college. His primary nurse still sends my mother a Christmas card each year—even now, 24 years later,” she said. “When you take care of someone when they’re sick, they remember you.”
In recent years, families have become more involved in care, especially as they are able to stay overnight in the Shapiro Center and throughout the hospital. “As night nurses, we never used to see the families; they were a phone call,” she said. “Now, they’re around 24/7, and they really understand and respect the role of nurses.”
Politano enjoys the night shift, which she has worked for her entire career. It helps her spend time with her husband and 14-year-old twins, Christina and Vinny. “I’m home every day for my kids when they get out of school,” she said.
She enjoys the pace and the people she works with. “Your coworkers are such a support system at night,” she said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”