For Mary O’Neill, BSN, RN, of the Burn, Trauma and Surgical Intermediate Care Unit, the ultimate goal of nursing care is to “delegate the baton to the patient through supporting independence and autonomy.”
O’Neill’s expert practice, years of experience and exquisite relationship-based care are manifested within the small steps and moments that lead up to this act of empowering patients.
In one case, it all began with a small notebook that O’Neill purchased to encourage a patient to engage in their care. She encouraged the patient to write everything in the notebook — the names of care team members, daily events and goals.
“It was amazing to witness the sense of empowerment that a simple notebook gave this patient,” said Courtney Gouthro, BSN, RN. “Mary encouraged us to provide positive reinforcement to the patient throughout our shifts. With this reinforcement came a new attitude from the patient, who became fully engaged in the plan of care and goals.”
The seemingly small act of purchasing a notebook ultimately led to a positive outcome and autonomy for the patient.
“Mary really went above and beyond to provide the highest-quality nursing care, and her dedication improved the patient’s quality of life tremendously,” said Gouthro. “Mary has truly influenced my nursing approach, and this situation will have a lasting impact on me for the rest of my career.”
O’Neill was selected for this year’s Essence of Nursing Award — the highest honor presented to clinical nurses at the Brigham — for the lasting influence she has on her patients, her colleagues and the nursing profession.
Advocate, Coach and Caregiver
Patients who have suffered burns are among those who receive care on Braunwald Tower 8AB, and colleagues say that O’Neill truly excels in supporting these patients through a difficult time in their lives.
“Mary’s dedication to patients with burn wounds speaks volumes about who she is as a person and as a nurse,” said Laura Piechura, MD, General Surgery resident. “A positive relationship between the nurse and patient is paramount to the care of these patients, and that is where Mary excels. She is gentle, but effective and attuned to their needs as human beings.”
As an advocate, coach and caregiver, O’Neill helps patients on the path to recovery from their painful injuries, Piechura said, recalling one patient whose trajectory greatly improved due to O’Neill’s motivation and ability to “delegate the baton.”
“The patient was doing better, and it had nothing to do with changes to the care plan and everything to do with Mary,” Piechura said.
O’Neill’s commitment to those who have suffered from burns is also demonstrated in her community service.
“Mary’s love and compassion for burn patients is felt throughout,” said nursing director Diane Tsitos, MS, RN. “Every year, you see Mary attending the Burn Walk fundraiser and volunteering at the Phoenix Society, showing her support for all burn patients.”
A Champion for Improvement
O’Neill is chair of the unit-based practice council and a member of the hospital-wide nursing practice council, as well as a skin care champion and a member of the 8AB unit-based team.
“Because of her widespread involvement, Mary is the go-to person when we have questions or when issues arise,” said Gouthro. “I call Mary when I have a question about skin care. I always think to myself, ‘What would Mary do?’”
O’Neill’s recent unit-based efforts to improve care include helping to create a video to educate staff about Miami J collars and skin care and an effort to improve hand hygiene that resulted in increased compliance.
“Mary empowers her peers to think, strategize and implement changes in practice for the betterment of the unit,” Tsitos said.
O’Neill began at the Brigham shortly after receiving her BSN from the University of Massachusetts Boston.
Nominated by Courtney Gouthro, BSN, RN, with letters of support from Diane Tsitos, MS, RN, nursing director, and Laura Piechura, MD, General Surgery resident
More about Mary
Family: Married, with four sons and eight grandchildren. “My proudest accomplishment,” she says.
Where you’ll find her when she’s not at the Brigham: Spending time with family and walking the beach.
Project she’s currently working on: Co-coordinator of the TULIP Patient Care Associate (PCA) Award Pilot Program. “I am so excited for the launching of this award!”