Laura Dickens cares for a patient in the Cardiac Surgery ICU.Laura Dickens cares for a patient in the Cardiac Surgery ICU.

Laura Dickens cares for a patient in the Cardiac Surgery ICU.

Laura Dickens, MSN, RN, spent the beginning of her nursing career taking opportunities as a travel nurse before she arrived at what she fondly refers to as her “home” in 2005: The Cardiac Surgery Intensive Care Unit on Shapiro 6 West.

“We truly are a family,” she says of her colleagues. “I love Shapiro 6 West and all of the people who are part of it. This love has driven me to want to continue to build our practice and professionalism through participation as a preceptor, mentor, researcher, nurse-in-charge (NIC), peer educator and Magnet champion.”

Her pursuit of excellence in all that she does — whether she is improving quality, educating colleagues or building relationships with her patients and their loved ones — is the reason she was selected for the 2019 Kurlat Essence of Nursing Award. Dickens was nominated by her colleagues, with support from her nursing director and the unit’s medical director, for her deep devotion to the Cardiac Surgery ICU.

According to nominators Susan Gabriel, BSN, RN, CCRN, and Trevor Herrin, MSN, RN, “Laura inspires us all to work hard and be kind to one another and be the best nurses we can be as a team. She is an incredibly special person, one who exemplifies what it means to be a nurse.”

“Concierge of Care”

Dickens views the charge nurse role as a “concierge of care,” who can take a global view of a scenario and coordinate care accordingly, taking into consideration the needs of everyone involved.

This may be one of the reasons she is so effective as a charge nurse, especially in a high-acuity setting.

“As a NIC, Laura does whatever it takes to support her colleagues and help them to succeed,” said Nursing Director Maria Bentain-Melanson, MSN, RN, who noted she was “bombarded” with requests from staff to contribute to Dickens’ award nomination. “Nurses, physicians and physician assistants routinely confer with Laura regarding patient care issues. In fact, all of her peers and physician colleagues express relief when she is on duty.”

Colleagues say that Dickens has an ability to maintain composure during challenging situations. She anticipates the needs of staff and patients alike and is always available to resolve issues. This includes not only the ICU, but also the Cardiac Surgery Intermediate Care Unit when a rapid response is called or staff need assistance with an unfamiliar procedure or condition.

“Laura embodies everything that you would hope for in a charge nurse and staff nurse: leadership, communication and concern for her staff and patients,” Gabriel and Herrin wrote.

A Teacher and Role Model

When Dickens first joined the Cardiac Surgery ICU, she immediately began caring for some of the unit’s sickest patients, given her breadth of experience and “natural aptitude for critical care,” said Bentain-Melanson. “Laura also quickly became a mentor to nurses on the day and night shifts.”

Since then, she has served as a preceptor to many newly hired nurses on the unit. She was also one of the first volunteer peer educators in the ICU, wanting to empower other nurses and share her knowledge of cardiac surgery care, devices and best practices.

Dickens is an effective teacher because, simply put, she inspires people to want to do their best. This feeling isn’t limited to nurses.

“Laura motivates me to be a better physician, to work harder and to be more compassionate for my patients and co-workers,” said Martin Zammert, MD, director of the Cardiac Surgery Intensive Care Unit. “She truly is a role model for all nurses and physicians on our unit.”

He noted her extensive knowledge about the care of cardiac surgery patients and the compassion and respect with which she treats everyone around her. “Laura is a strong patient advocate while always being mindful and respectful of the patient’s autonomy,” he said.

Pursuit of Excellence

Dickens has served on the unit’s practice council for five years and is deeply focused on quality improvement and bringing evidence-based practice to the bedside.

In response to concerns from nurse practitioners in Endocrinology related to glucose control, Dickens and her colleagues applied for and received a Mary Fay Enrichment Award to study how to optimize glucose control among cardiac surgery patients. The team also helped the ICU leadership committee revise protocols and diet orders based on the latest evidence, according to Bentain-Melanson. “This work has helped decrease the incidence of mediastinitis and improve glucose control among patients,” she said.

Dickens, who is proud of the care that the Cardiac Surgery ICU provides, served as a Magnet champion to engage her colleagues and shine a light on the unit’s outstanding practice.

“Laura helped us to understand what Magnet designation represented, and her positive attitude helped staff to see the benefits,” wrote Gabriel and Herrin. “Magnet means ‘best practice,’ and Laura communicated to everyone that our service was already functioning at the Magnet level.”

Getting to Know Laura Dickens

Family: “My loving and supportive husband of over 20 years, Randy Dickens, ambitious son, Anthony, who serves in the U.S. Army, and always happy daughter, Sophia.”

BS in Biology from Binghamton University; BSN and MSN from Rivier University

Last book she read:
“Origin,” by Dan Brown

Favorite movie:
“Gone with the Wind”

Where you’ll find her when she’s not at the Brigham:
Visiting family in New York or pool-side, supporting her daughter’s swim team

Reaction to learning she won the Essence of Nursing Award: “Complete humility. I was teaching a unit-based competency when a group arrived bearing flowers. I was extremely moved and am still so grateful for everyone’s amazing sentiments and goodwill towards me. My colleagues and I were brought to tears. A most wonderful moment!”


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