“We have ‘guests and quests,’” she explains. “The guests are subject matter experts, and on quests, we go get hands-on experience on the skills that critical care nurses need. For example, if we are discussing the pulmonary system, we work together with a respiratory therapist. Everyone is given mouthpieces so they can try on different ventilator modes so they know what it feels like and can explain it to patients and their families. The level of care then delivered is more thoughtful due to this exposure and education.”
Nurses who go through the DEU emerge more confident they can handle acute situations, while their colleagues in the ICU know they can trust their knowledge and skill sets.
Tillquist received a 2016 division-level HCA Innovators Award for her work establishing the DEU, and this year she is working with other Denver-area ICU educators to help adapt and expand her program to include all hospitals’ new ICU RNs, ensuring they too receive consistent education, support and mentoring.
Knowing that critical care nurses have many options for advancement, Tillquist also created the Critical Care Passport to help them customize a career course. The nurse chooses two- and five-year goals, and the Passport lays out the essential skills and terms needed to reach them.
When putting together the guide, Tillquist reached out to colleagues from her own 40-year career, asking them to list the bottom-line common denominator skills that a critical care nurse should have for different specialties.
In addition to hard skills, Tillquist’s respondents validated her own belief that critical care nursing requires a high degree of emotional caregiving, offering advice such as “Be the calmest person in the room.” and “Treat everyone as if they are your parent.”
So, a section of the Passport — Currency — is dedicated to developing those important communication skills.
“I have an obligation with the students to help them navigate their careers, to help them find their strengths and encourage them to develop and pursue them,” she says. “To help them follow their gifts is a huge privilege.”