CDH Hires Clinical Nurse Specialists

Administrator Says Mentors Will Create Environment Of Learning And Support

To those in the industry, they’re known as “clin-specs.”


That’s the name given to the clinical nurse specialist, or CNS, a nurse with advanced degrees who takes on the roles of teacher, mentor, expert nurse, consultant, facilitator, and researcher in the hospital setting.

All those are vital resources, said Mary Beth Fairbrother, vice president of patient care services at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, who told The Healthcare News that the five clin-specs that the hospital is bringing on board will improve the quality of care being given to patients and also help nurses grow professionally.

Both of those outcomes are critical at a time when demand for services is increasing and a ongoing nursing shortage is making it harder to both recruit and retain nurses, said Fairbrother.

“All the literature indicates that professional growth ranks high in job satisfaction … we are dedicated to promoting an environment of learning, where our staff can be continuously challenged,” she explained. “We’ve hired and are recruiting top-notch nurse experts to advance the nursing practice at Cooley Dickinson.”

Fairbrother said clin-specs have always been valued staff members, but when hospitals were faced with reducing beds — and, therefore, staff — in the early to mid-‘90s, many CNSs were downsized or became nurse practitioners. In recent years, however, they have been recognized as an invaluable support system for nurses.

“It’s a role I value highly,” she told The Healthcare News. “I’ve worked with clinical nurse specialists in other settings, and I’ve seen them help nurses in their growth curve. They’re phenomenal as support to the nursing staff.”

CDH recently hired three CNSs: Barbara Banik, Lois Kelley, and Barbara Wroblewski, nurses with advanced degrees in nursing specialties such as geriatrics, medical/surgical care, clinical care, and informatics, which combines nursing, computer databases, and research. A fourth CSN is due to be on board early next year, and a fifth will eventually be hired.

The hospital is making a large monetary commitment to the program, said Fairbrother, but it will prove well worth it in terms of both improved patient care and the ongoing education of nurses.

“We are not here to take over for the nurses,” said Wroblewski. “We are asking the questions and providing the resources to help nurses think critically to improve how they deliver care. Each day we make small and steady steps toward improving how things are done here.”

Banik concurred. “Nurses today are not only providing care at the bedside, but they are also expected to stay current on medications, equipment, therapies, and research,” she said, noting that the clin-spec plays a key role in such continuing education.

Banik, who developed the Geriatric Resource Nurse Model at Franklin Medical Center, works with nurses on all units, including the inpatient psychiatric unit — where many of the patients are older adults — to help them learn more about caring for an elder’s unique and complex needs.

“My job is to help the nurses look at both the psychological and physical aspects of caring for the older adult,” she said, noting that more than half the patients at CDH on any given day are elderly, many over 85 or 90 years of age.

Wroblewski, a critical care nurse with 25 years of experience and advanced degrees in Nursing and Infomatics, is assigned to the critical care/telemetry unit, and will work with the information systems department to roll out new computer systems over the next few months.

Kelley, meanwhile, collaborates with the medical/surgical nurses at the hospital. She says she spends most of her time consulting on complex cases, including patients with pneumonia or congestive heart failure.

“As nurses, it is our job to evaluate the patient and find out how we can provide the best care in the shortest amount of time so the patient can recover at home rather than in an unfamiliar hospital setting,” she said. “We ask about the patient’s mental state and ability to function independently, and assess what is ‘normal’ for the patient. Then, we teach the patient and his or her family how to manage the condition at home to hopefully avoid another hospital stay.”

Overall, Wroblewski sees the clin-specs as change agents. “We’re in the process of learning what the Cooley Dickinson nurses need to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.”