Sue Ford, RN: My Journey Through Healthcare

By Susan Ford, RN

Sue Ford My first recollection of anything medical was at about age 3–5 when my mother actually worked as a nurse’s aide at J. Hillis Miller Health Science Center (now UF Health Shands). Mom would come home and tell me stories about “grand rounds” and I could say words like sphygmomanometer and craniotomy before I could pronounce my own last name (Cheshire).

Next, I remember that in elementary school, when we received our immunizations from the school nurse, many of my classmates got a fever and didn’t feel well, and I went around placing damp paper towels on their foreheads.

In high school, my first job was at Monroe Memorial Hospital (now Florida Hospital of Ocala) as a training lab tech and phlebotomist. This is when the spark ignited. I interacted with so many people in an array of settings: patients, nurses, EKG techs, orderlies, and doctors. I wanted to learn more and do more. My plan was to be an army nurse when I finished school. But I was young and “in love,” so after I graduated, I married and started my family. This marriage didn’t last, and I became a single mother with no support. I went to work at Monroe Memorial again, this time as a switchboard operator. One of my responsibilities was to page “codes” for emergency events like cardiac or respiratory arrest. At one point, I even called the code for my own mother, who was a patient. My voice broke as I did this, since I only had the room number, not knowing if it was my mom or the other patient. When I finished the announcement, I ran up the stairs and went to my mother’s room, and my heart stopped when I saw the team doing CPR. Luckily, she survived.

My life went down another path as I remarried and moved to Sarasota. I took a nursing assistant course and started to work at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. So many people affected my life, mentored me, and gave me the confidence and strength to move forward during this part of my journey. Over my 22 years at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, I served in many roles.

For the first 7 years, I was a nursing assistant. Soon, physicians started giving me orders for patients’ care and medications, and I had to tell them I was going to get the nurse because I could not take their orders. At this point, they encouraged me to move forward with my education. My desire to do more and improve my education was noted by an anonymous benefactor who sent me the registration fee to enter the local community college to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN).

My next 10 years as an LPN were sprinkled with opportunities. I spent the first 4 years working on a surgical unit.

I also became involved in the Licensed Practical Nurse Association of Florida and served as the Division-level Program Chairperson for the Education Committee and Division President. During this time, I was the State Board Committee Chairperson for Government Affairs and the Legislative Representative for the State of Florida. I was fortunate to travel to Washington, DC, and meet with our senate and house representatives on behalf of the association.

I was offered the opportunity to transition into the field of infection control. I had the chance to take classes at the Centers or Disease Control in Atlanta, and I worked as an infection control nurse for the next 5 years.

At this point, I wanted to get back to the clinical bedside with patients. What better way to do this than by tackling my fear of working with orthopedic patients? I was always afraid I would break what had just been fixed. During my 3 years working on the orthopedic unit, I learned so much about orthopedic cases that I was able to help develop hip and knee patient protocols. My expertise in starting IVs also allowed me to assist the IV team. During this time, I was encouraged by many of the doctors and nursing supervisors to keep moving toward my goals, and therefore, I applied for and was awarded one of the first education grants from the hospital to further my career and become a registered nurse (RN). I continued to work as I attended classes. Once again, my supervisors were there for me and adjusted my work schedule so that it aligned with my class schedules.

My transition from LPN to RN was somewhat strange: I worked as an LPN one day, then got the word I passed my boards and went to work the next day as an RN on the same unit. Over the next 4 years, my nursing career evolved from orthopedics to critical care medicine. At this point, my family relocated to the Gainesville area and my time at Shands Hospital began.

I spent the next 11 years filling various roles at Shands. This was so surreal, walking the same halls that my mother did when I was just a little girl. I could feel her presence with me. She was alive when I graduated as an LPN, but had passed away during the time I was taking my clinical exam for my RN degree.

The first 4 years at Shands, I had the privilege of being one of the original staff to open the intermediate intensive care unit and to work with wonderful people from the surgical intensive care unit. As a staff nurse and relief charge nurse for the unit, my knowledge base continued to grow, although this was a whole different world than what I had experienced in the last 22 years. This was a teaching world; not only was I the nurse in charge of the patient, now I was also teaching the new doctors. I had to learn the “chain of command” very quickly and to be more of a patient advocate than ever. Once, a physician introduced with, “I am the fellow.” I replied that “I am a gal,” so exactly who are you?

I was welcomed by the faculty mentors from the Anesthesia Critical Care division and treated with respect. I later had the opportunity to shadow the Director of Nursing, Rose Rivers, as part of a career advancement program. During this time, we discussed my many interests, experiences, and education. Ms. Rivers encouraged me to delve into another field that incorporated much of my expertise: Quality & Patient Safety. This began another phase of my professional journey.

Sue Ford

For the next 8 years, I worked as a Quality Analyst and Medical Staff Quality Liaison in Quality Management. These years were definitely a growing experience. I was charged with the development and implementation of an efficient and effective physician peer review process for all medical staff departments. I was challenged to make this new process work. I was mentored to do more. By covering every medical staff department, I had the opportunity to meet with several department chairs and learn about their specialties. I became a Risk Manager Designee for Shands and provided review and dissemination of the patient safety report events for the appropriate follow-up. I served on all Root Cause Analysis meetings and worked hand-in-hand with the Self-Insurance Program. I participated in the ICU Improvement Committee, Sedation and Analgesia Committee, and Transfusion Committee. I also organized and facilitated the Medical Staff Support Group Committee. It was through these efforts that I crossed paths with several Department of Anesthesiology faculty: Drs. Nik Gravenstein, Jerry Cohen, Joseph Layon, and Kayser Enneking. Through these interactions, a vision was born to develop a quality position specifically for the Department of Anesthesiology. This vision came to fruition, and the new position — the first of its kind — was developed.

I have had the opportunity to be the Quality Officer for the Department of Anesthesiology for the last 10 years. This position was recognized as being on the cutting edge, and other medical staff departments developed similar positions.

Sue Ford

I have been invited to present the usefulness and development of this position to the University of Vermont, Geisinger HealthCare, and Jefferson University.

I have also had the chance to educate hundreds of residents and faculty in quality and patient safety during my time here, and as a team, we have shared our quality initiatives in many venues: locally, having a strong representation of posters at the Annual Quality Week; nationally, participating in oral and poster presentations at IHI national forum and University HealthCare Consortium Conferences; and internationally, presenting an oral poster in Montreal, Canada.

I received a Superior Accomplishment Award from the faculty I work with. They have encouraged me, challenged me, and given me strength and knowledge. This has been the opportunity of a lifetime, and I have developed a coveted position. The friendships I have made here are everlasting. Many faculty have a place in my heart forever and many of the residents are like my own children.

My journey will not end here… I will be challenged to do more, I will be challenged to face more, and I will accept!