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Passion for lifelong learning drives St. Anthony's Education Supervisor

Christina Woerdehoff.JPG

St. Anthony Regional Hospital's Education Supervisor Christina Woerdehoff poses with a simulation mannequin used in St. Anthony's simulation program.

As a 14-year-old high school freshman, Christina Woerdehoff learned what she wanted to be.

When she was 14, her grandmother passed away from lung cancer. Woerdehoff moved into a hospice with her grandmother in the last weeks of her life. Watching the positive treatment her grandmother received from hospice nurses and how they helped her family understand the process inspired Woerdehoff.

“I learned that death is a part of life and it can actually be a beautiful thing,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be painful for the person or their family.”

Now, Woerdehoff is the Education Services Supervisor at St. Anthony Regional Hospital, leading educational initiatives for staff.

Earlier this month, Woerdehoff was named a Great Iowa Nurse through the Great Iowa Nurses Program for her contributions to the nursing profession. She humbly accepted the honor, stating there’s plenty of other names she can think of who also deserve the award.

“I’m following a very outstanding group of nurses that have received this award at St. Anthony. I’m not sure that I’m as deserving as most of them, but I’m very grateful,” Woerdehoff said.

Before arriving at St. Anthony, she worked as a Hospice Case Manager, what she thought she would be for her whole life. When she started out in hospice care, she knew she had a lot to learn.

“So much of it was just being there emotionally for the family members and learning what the patients themselves wanted and being able to express that and help patients express that to the family members,” Woerdehoff said.

After having her first child, she had to make a tough call.

“In hospice, you’re on call all the time, so I had to make the choice between my family and a job that I loved very, very much,” Woerdehoff said.

Now as the Education Services Supervisor for St. Anthony, she helps staff all throughout the hospital learn and grow. Her favorite part of the job is the simulation program. From when she first started at St. Anthony six years ago, the hospital has gone from one practice mannequin to four high fidelity mannequins for simulation. High fidelity means the mannequins can breath, bleed, talk and more.

Practice with mannequins allows nurses to train for simple situations, such as checking a lung to see what they can hear, all the way to emergency situations, such as cardiac arrest or stroke.

“Simulation could be we’re going to learn something new and we’re going to be very controlled in a controlled setting, or it’s a surprise, which we have to be able to be prepared for as well,” Woerdehoff said.

In a surprise cardiac arrest simulation, practicing health professionals will not be aware of the upcoming simulation. Woerdehoff will go on call to say ‘I need help right now,’ then nurses come running in with a crash cart, perform CPR and must do everything right for the “patient” to survive.

“Then hopefully the next one that’s a real person, we know exactly what to do,” Woerdehoff said.

She said the simulation program is the best way to improve patient outcomes and help staff to prepare for real situations, making simulations her favorite part of education.

Nurses, assistants, physicians, therapists, lab personnel, respiratory therapists and more participate in simulated scenarios and Woerdehoff says St. Anthony’s simulation program is among what makes the hospital stand out.

“The most rewarding thing, I think, is seeing a brand new nurse or brand new person who just graduated and is starting their career, build the confidence to be able to provide really good, safe care for our patients and are having the best outcomes for our patients,” Woerdehoff said.

She believes she has a lot left to learn as an educator, which excites her.

“As a nurse, lifelong learning is one of the best parts,” Woerdehoff said.

She sees brand new nurses learn and grow all the way towards graduation, but also sees working professionals already in the field learn and grow too.

Being an educator, she says she must learn every single day herself in order to provide education.

“The fact that every single day I get to learn something new keeps it fresh and exciting,” Woerdehoff said.

In addition to simulation, she teaches clinical classes and works alongside other educators at St. Anthony. Part of the role also includes educating the community.

In recent weeks, local students from elementary through high school have attended St. Anthony for exploration experiences teaching students what nursing is and what healthcare opportunities are out there.

“Giving them the opportunity to learn and to get their minds thinking about, ‘Is nursing for me?’ is exciting to know they might be our coworkers two years from now, eight years from now, whatever it would be,” Woerdehoff said. “It’s exciting to know we’re trying to get them excited now, to maybe shorten the shortage that we have now, to start our next generation of nurses.”

She said the COVID-19 pandemic played a big role in transforming the nursing profession. When Woerdehoff first graduated from nursing school at the University of Iowa, she said the profession was slower, with today more is expected from new nurses when they’re fresh out of school.

“You were able to really focus on learning each skill and taking the time to really be an expert and learn and grow,” Woerdehoff said. “I feel like post-COVID and during COVID, we’ve really made new nurses rush through and expect a lot from them right away.”

This change in expectations she says is due to a shortage of available nurses.

“We have fewer and fewer nurses available, so we have to have those high expectations,” Woerdehoff said. “But, that’s where I come in. That’s where my job plays in is providing all that education and practice even after nurses graduate to try to help them become those experts more quickly.”

While May is National Nurses Month, a time to recognize nurses, Woerdehoff says St. Anthony’s frontline nursing staff deserve recognition everyday.

“We have outstanding nurses here at St. Anthony that want the best for our patients and stand up for each other, help each other,” Woerdehoff said. “Our nurses, just like other places, pull 12 hour days and maybe don’t see their children or their families for a whole day because of that. If there’s a patient who is having a hard day, they might stay a little extra to help them through that or they might stay an extra amount of time to help a young nurse understand a situation they’re going through.”

She said nursing school is difficult and may deter some people from pursuing the profession. While nursing students have classes, they must also pull eight hour clinical days on top of schooling. Despite the demanding nature of the profession, Woerdehoff says nearly anyone in the world can become a nurse, given the multiple disciplines and diversity among nurses.

“I think if you have compassion and if you are a caring person, and you want to help people, either physically, mentally, emotionally, nursing is the right thing,” Woerdehoff said.

Woerdehoff resides in Lake View with her husband, Chris, who is a physical therapist at St. Anthony. The couple have three children Eli, age 6, Isaac, age 3, and Lea, who is 1.

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