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Magnet designation leader Downs set to retire

Aug. 25, 2021, 3:48 PM


by Matt Batcheldor

Sabrina Downs, MSN, MBA, RN, NE-BC, with the documents submitted for VUMC’s second Magnet designation in 2012.
Sabrina Downs, MSN, MBA, RN, NE-BC, with the documents submitted for VUMC’s second Magnet designation in 2012. (photo by Joe Howell)

Sabrina Downs, MSN, MBA, RN, NE-BC, is retiring as senior director of Nursing Professional Practice and Magnet Recognition, effective Sept. 3.

Downs has served VUMC for 27 years during two tours of duty — one from 1981 to 1992 and again from 2005 to present. During her current tenure, she oversaw VUMC’s first three Magnet designations and recently coordinated the submissions of the documents for a fourth designation.

Magnet recognition, which is granted by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), is the highest honor an organization can receive for the provision of professional nursing care and interprofessional collaboration. Only about 6 to 7% of hospitals have the distinction, and no other hospital system in Middle Tennessee has achieved Magnet designation.

“Sabrina has left a legacy of excellence,” said Executive Chief Nursing Officer Marilyn Dubree, MSN, RN, NE-BC. “It has been such a pleasure working side by side with her for many years as Vanderbilt received Magnet designation after Magnet designation. Impeccably organized, she has formed lasting relationships with hundreds of nurses throughout our enterprise to accomplish this important work. I am proud to call her a colleague and friend, and I wish her the very best.”

Downs said that Vanderbilt has long had the elements of a Magnet organization in place; her role, along with many others, was simply to document it. She did so, multiple times, with examples from across the organization in response to questions, as well as demographic information and quality data and patient and staff satisfaction. If the web-based Magnet documents were printed, they would total thousands of pages.

“Showcasing that work takes a village,” Downs said. “We didn’t necessarily change nursing at Vanderbilt to be Magnet; we just put processes in place to capture the great work of our nurses. That was the exciting part for me — Vanderbilt nurses have received a recognition that they so, so deserve. That’s at all levels — the bedside, the managers, the leaders, the chief nursing officers. That recognition also includes our interdisciplinary colleagues from across the organization. Everybody comes together to make it possible.”

Downs, a native of Western Kentucky, began her career at community hospitals in Paducah and Murray, Kentucky, before starting as a clinical nurse at Vanderbilt in 1981. She worked in critical care before discovering her passion in working with cancer patients. She partnered with John Greer, MD, and the late Steven Wolff, MD, to start Vanderbilt’s bone marrow transplant program, and eventually, as the nurse coordinator, opened the Myelosuppression/Bone Marrow Transplant Unit.

Her passion for cancer care led her to Baptist Hospital in 1993, when she became program coordinator of the Cancer Center. She eventually became director of Cancer Services for the hospital and then associate chief nursing officer.

In 2005, she rejoined VUMC as director of Magnet Recognition and assumed her current title in 2007, taking on responsibility for Professional Practice. Under her watch, Vanderbilt achieved its first Magnet designation in November 2006, its second in April 2012 and third in July 2017.

This current fourth Magnet journey is the first in which VUMC submitted four Magnet documents, one for each nursing entity — Vanderbilt University Hospital, Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt Adult Ambulatory Clinics and Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital. Previously, one document was submitted.

The ANCC will review the documents to ensure they meet criteria. If so, the Medical Center will receive site visits at all four nursing entities within a year. Downs has mentored new Magnet coordinators — at each of the entities — to take the process forward. “It has been my honor to pass that torch and see the growth and the leadership of people across the organization,” she said.

Downs holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Murray State University, a Master of Science in Nursing from Vanderbilt University and Master of Business Administration from Belmont University.

“The most important thing that Nursing has brought to my life are relationships that I formed with people that are sometimes at their worst, sometimes at their happiest,” Downs said. “That is a sacred relationship to have with someone, with their family, to share those times with them. Vanderbilt is blessed to have so many patients and families that entrust us with their care. There is no doubt that we are Magnet.”

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