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‘Everybody that is associated with UW should be incredibly proud’

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Fence reads "Dr. Dubs says it's time to schedule your annual wellness check" outside of the UW Medical Center.

The UW Medical Center – Montlake campus recently became the first hospital in the country to receive a seventh consecutive “Magnet” designation, a label from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) that represents excellence in nursing.

As of October 2022, less than 10% of American hospitals have earned a Magnet designation, according to the ANCC. In 1994, the Montlake campus, adjacent to Husky Stadium, was the first hospital to be awarded a Magnet designation and inaugurated what has since become the Magnet Recognition Program. 

“Being a Magnet hospital is a statement on who we choose to be and how we choose to function within our own organization,” Shawn-Marie Paris, assistant nurse manager for the UW Diabetes Institute, said. “It means pulling the nurses into the highest ability that they have, and nurses are good problem solvers. They find the gaps.”

At the Montlake center, nurses are empowered to take charge of their patients’ care and practice to the highest scope of their license, especially in emergency situations without time to get actions approved by a doctor. For example, if a nurse thinks a patient has sepsis — a life-threatening response to infection that requires immediate medical attention — they can start treatments like drawing blood and dispensing fluids as they wait for a team of doctors to arrive. If a nurse thinks a patient is having a stroke, they can call a code stroke to alert neurologists. 

This autonomy is a key characteristic of the Magnet designation. Commitments to communication, innovation, and compassion also build trust between nurses and doctors, who have become accustomed to a “high caliber” of nursing at Montlake, according to Cindy Sayre, the facility’s chief nursing officer.

“Every time we make decisions about policies and procedures, we're always thinking, ‘How can we use the nurses' expertise to advance the care of the patient?’” Sayre said. “It's woven into the culture, because we've had [the designation] for so long.”

Sayre, who oversees around 1,800 Montlake-affiliated nurses, received notice Nov. 16 that the hospital had retained its designation after an intensive reapplication process. In her congratulatory message, Jeanette Ives Erickson, chair of the ANCC’s Commission on Magnet Recognition, highlighted UW Med’s leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the guidelines it shared with other hospitals across the country in the spring of 2020.

“On behalf of a grateful nation, we want to thank all of you for paving the way through three of the most difficult years we have had in health care,” Ives Erickson said over Zoom.

As the pandemic unfolded, medical staff across the system’s four hospitals wrote policies and procedures “as fast as we could, until our eyes wouldn’t stay open anymore,” Sayre, who joined Montlake in 2017, said. UW Med leadership then sent these documents to other hospitals, saving their administrators “countless hours.”

“It's so much easier to edit a policy than it is to create it out of scratch, and we were giving them kind of a playbook for what that might look like,” Sayre said. “Everybody that is associated with UW should be incredibly proud of UW Medicine.”

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The excellence of Montlake’s patient care extends far beyond just the UW community. As the center of WWAMI — a medical program serving Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho — UW Med is where patients in rural communities can go who need more intensive care than can be given at primary care clinics.

“UW is basically the top of the pyramid as far as the highest level of care for the patients,” Paris said. “Say you’re in Alaska … and you need a heart transplant. There is no one in Alaska who does that. But the agreement [allows patients to] come to UW under Alaska Medicare or Medicaid … What that does is it allows small communities to get big community benefits.”

The Magnet designation is also an especially powerful recruitment pull during the nurse shortage affecting the entire health care industry. The label serves as a mission statement, showing potential hires that Montlake values their contributions and provides them with institutional support. 

“Health care is in an existential crisis, there's no two ways about it,” Sayre said. “Nursing in particular has been traumatized by the pandemic.”

COVID-19 also caused new trends in nursing recruitment, according to Kristi Fitzgerald, a recruiter who has worked at the Montlake campus since 2010. In the pandemic’s early days, portions of the workforce retired early or moved out of Washington state, and many student nurses watched the unfolding crisis and chose to pivot into a different specialty, such as dental hygiene. 

“When you’re seeing a shortage, there’s really an increase in the competition between the hospitals,” Fitzgerald said. “Everybody’s vying for the very limited resources that are applying.”

But the Magnet label serves as a mission statement, showing potential hires that Montlake values their contributions and provides institutional support. 

“Magnet nurses have that independent autonomy built in, that’s the expectation,” Paris said. “Because of that, a Magnet hospital will attract nurses who want to be part of the care teams, who want to be part of the solutions for every patient.” 

Reach reporter Sarah Kahle at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @sarkahle

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