May 25, 2023

Small victories and success stories inspire Haley Sullivan to be a better nurse each and every shift

“As a nurse I always try to think about what I can do, even if it’s just something little that can make a difference to them, make them more comfortable, and keep them in the know about what’s going on with their situation.”

Patient & Family Award Winner Haley Sullivan poses for a photo on May 1, 2023 .Photos by Donn Jones/Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Haley Sullivan, RN. Photo by Donn Jones.

Haley Sullivan, RN, loves her job as a night nurse in the Emergency Department at Vanderbilt University Hospital. She finds the environment challenging, and she never knows what’s going to come through the door. She also loves the teamwork with her ED colleagues.

But she never forgets that a trip to the emergency room can be a frightening and emotional journey for her patients. And she does everything in her power to make them comfortable.

Sullivan is one of five employees chosen this year to receive a Patient and Family Choice Award, sponsored and selected by each of Vanderbilt’s four patient and family advisory councils. Nominations were submitted by patients and families.

The 2023 Patient and Family Choice Award honors employees from across Vanderbilt University Medical Center who act with compassion and excellence to provide an exceptional experience for patients and their families. This year the patient and family advisory councils bestowed awards to five individuals from Vanderbilt University Hospital, Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital, Vanderbilt Adult Ambulatory Clinics, and Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital. Sullivan’s award represents Vanderbilt University Hospital.

“Haley is a delight to work with,” said Sullivan’s supervisor, Candice Marable, RN, BSN, assistant nurse manager in the Adult Emergency Department. “She never sits and is always looking for the next person to help. When it comes to quality patient care, she makes that her top priority. Her positive energy is contagious, and you can’t help but smile when she is around. VUMC is lucky to have such an amazing nurse at the front lines.”

Sullivan has been at VUMC since 2020. She came from Northwestern Medical Center in Chicago, her hometown, where she worked in an intensive care unit for a year after graduating from Belmont University. She started in the Adult ED, then switched for a few months in 2022 to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. She returned to the Adult ED in January.

“Growing up, I’ve always been an adrenaline junkie,” Sullivan said. “I’ve always liked a challenging environment. Since you never know what’s coming through your door here, you’re always on your toes, forcing you to think fast and critically. And I think the teamwork aspect of the ED has always been special to me. I’m lucky I get to work beside nurses, physicians, medics and care partners that inspire me and push me to be a better nurse each and every shift. I wouldn’t be the nurse I am today without my co-workers.”

Sullivan said each shift is a little different in the types of patients she is assigned to care for. Trauma patients can be the most challenging, she said. “With trauma patients we see tragedy day in and day out, but it’s the small victories and success stories that keep us going and inspired each time we clock in.”

Sullivan was nominated by a patient she was assigned to in 2022. Due to a shortage of available rooms in the hospital, the patient had to stay in a hallway bed for several hours. In the nomination, the patient said it was very difficult to rest due to the constant activity around her, but Sullivan, who was assigned to her several hours into her visit, “changed everything” with her care, the nomination read.

Sullivan provided a mattress topper that she hand-pumped herself to make her patient more comfortable. The patient said she didn’t have a call button because she was in a hallway, “but I never needed one. Nurse Haley checked on me constantly, always finding ways to increase my comfort and address my needs. She communicated on my behalf frequently with my doctors to manage my pain and swiftly provided answers to any question I had,” the nomination read. With Sullivan’s help, she was moved to a room within a few hours.

“Her exceptional care made an uncomfortable and stressful experience much easier. Her personality is fantastic and helped me to smile even while in pain. She is efficient, professional, knowledgeable, and goes the extra mile for her patients. She maintains a positive and nurturing attitude no matter what comes down the line. Everyone should have a nurse like her during tough times, and she made a difficult moment so much better just by being herself,” the patient wrote.

Sullivan said it’s important to recognize that nobody wants to be in the hospital. “I try to keep that in the back of mind. Chaos is my normal, but the Emergency Department is far from a normal environment for most of my patients,” she said.

“As a nurse I always try to think about what I can do, even if it’s just something little that can make a difference to them, make them more comfortable, and keep them in the know about what’s going on with their situation,” Sullivan said. “I can talk about their results, and just take the time to control the things I can control, to listen to my patients and see what I can do to help them during difficult times. I try to put myself in their shoes, empathize with them, think about how I would feel if this was my family member.”

Sullivan said she was presented with the award in a waiting room full of applauding people. “I was pretty shocked,” she said.

Marable came to get her in the triage area near the end of her shift and told Sullivan she had something she wanted to discuss.

“I said, ‘OK, am I in trouble?’” Sullivan recalls, laughing. “Did I do something wrong? Do I need to fix something? I came into the waiting room and there were a ton of people clapping. They presented me with the award. I was crying. It was a very special moment of my career, and I feel truly honored. It’s been an awesome experience, and I’m incredibly grateful.”