When colleagues speak about Monica Aurilio, BSN, RN, CNRN, they use words like “the essence of nursing,” “a guiding light” and “divine healer.” That’s because during her 26-year nursing career, spent entirely in the Neurosciences Intermediate Care Unit, Aurilio has inspired, taught and supported her fellow nurses while providing holistic and compassionate care to her patients.
Throughout her career, she has focused on caring for the whole person — physically, mentally and spiritually.
“My roots have always been holistic, and that is the direction I have pursued as a nurse,” said Aurilio, who has served as a charge nurse for the past 18 years. “I have taken every opportunity given to me to expand my knowledge and expertise. I know I am where I should be, and I have loved where I have been guided in this life.”
Aurilio’s knowledge and philosophy about healing, wellness and work/life balance have been shared within her unit and across the Brigham through monthly Wellness Days, a co-presentation at the National Magnet Conference and a guest podcast speaker on sleep health, among other avenues.
“Monica seeks to be a healer for all — herself, her co-workers, her patients and their families,” wrote Siobhan M. Raftery, MSN, RN, CNRN, nursing director, in her nomination. “Patients in the unit can be delirious, agitated, anxious and combative. Monica knows that a soft voice and gentle touch helps in these situations and, at times, allows for miracles to occur.”
For these reasons, Aurilio was selected as this year’s Gitta and Saul Kurlat Essence of Nursing Award recipient — the highest honor presented to clinical nurses at the Brigham. The award is named in honor of the late Kurlats and the care that Gitta received from Brigham nurses.
Holistic, Exceptional Care
Aurilio’s healing abilities have been demonstrated countless times. Raftery shared an example when Aurilio was assisting a newly licensed nurse (NLN) in the care of a confused patient who needed an MRI.
Aurilio spent time with the patient, encouraged the patient to take deep breaths and performed Reiki until the patient fell asleep. She accompanied the patient to the MRI so she could be available if the patient needed her again.
“Monica supported her colleague in the decision to not over-sedate her elderly patient; demonstrated what real, authentic touch looks like; and inspired the NLN to become Reiki-certified as well,” wrote Raftery.
Aurilio’s colleagues also recognize the ways in which the holistic care she provides benefit neuroscience patients.
“Many times what patients value are the small things,” wrote Susan Rodriguez, BSN, RN, CNRN, SCRN. “Monica is well-known for promoting nighttime activities of daily living. This is especially meaningful for our patients with severe neurological impairments. As important to patients’ healing as medical treatments are, meticulous skin and mouth care are another way that Monica heals her patients.”
Focusing on Well-Being
Aurilio, who obtained her Level 2 Reiki Certificate in 2016, is intensely focused on the well-being of those around her, including both colleagues and patients. Aurilio and two other colleagues — Jaimie Medina, BSN, RN, and Kristen Reed, BSN, RN, HN-BC — developed Wellness Day for interprofessional caregivers, which offers guided meditations, yoga, aromatherapy, healthy snacks, Reiki and massage. They presented their work at the 2021 Magnet Conference.
“Her devotion to nursing wellness has become even more valuable in a post COVID-19 health care work environment where members of all health care professions seek a renewed sense of self, purpose and positive energy,” wrote Katherine Belategui, MS, APRN, CNRN, AGCNS-BC, assistant nursing director, in her letter of support.
In the same way, Aurilio supports her patients and championed the roll-out of “sleep hygiene kits” to help patients sleep on the busy unit.
Leading by Example
According to her nominators, Aurilio not only exemplifies authentic leadership and the essence of nursing but also inspires others with her example.
“As a new nurse in 2006, I remember looking up to Monica as a night nurse-in-charge and thinking, ‘That is the type of nurse that I want to be,’” said Rodriguez. “Monica is one of the reasons I decided to strive to one day become a nurse-in-charge, too.”
Aurilio has supported staff during numerous changes, including the expansion of Braunwald Tower 10BCD to 5D and the roll-out of a new pathway to care for patients who undergo a craniotomy. Her nursing leaders say that Aurilio’s championing of these efforts and overall support for staff have been key to their continued success.
“What is hard to replicate — and what I think the nursing profession is craving — is Monica’s way of nursing: a way of being, a way of fostering a healing environment for the caregiver and a way of supporting the delicate transition into practice for new nurses,” wrote Belategui.
More about Monica:
Family: I live in Medford, staying close to my parents, brother and sister in Arlington. Family means everything to me. I have been with my husband, Louis, for 37 years, and we have two awesome children, Corbin and Annamae! I am happy to say I have passed my love of music and concerts on to them!
When she felt the calling to nursing: In 1989, my younger sister was diagnosed with a “giant” brain aneurysm. My parents and I spent a month at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota while she healed from life-saving surgery. As I watched the nurses care for my sister in the neurosurgical unit, I decided to return home and go to nursing school.
Education: BSN and BS from the University of Massachusetts, Boston
Where you’ll find her when she’s not at the Brigham: I spend as much time as I can at our camp on Echo Lake in Maine, kayaking, reading and picking blueberries! I love to walk my dog, Moxie, my BFF—that’s my “reflection time”! I also love to travel with my girlfriends, whom I’ve been so lucky to have since elementary school and college.
Reaction to learning she is the Essence of Nursing Award recipient: I was shocked and humbled when I received this award. When I found out that I was nominated, I wrote the required essay and tried to put it out of my mind. There are so many nurses deserving of this, and I was incredibly honored to be this year’s recipient!
Photos by Faith Ninivaggi