Nursing: A Critical Thread

woven threads in a grid.“Where are all the nurses?”

That was the question that Mary Ousley whispered to her sister Dana Case, a fellow nurse, soon after they joined the International Advisory Board of the Center for Innovative Medicine. The two had looked around the table at the other board members and seen only physicians.

“I am in awe of the work that CIM does and of the impressive group of individuals who pursue its mission — but isn’t health care about teamwork?” asks Ousley, whose distinguished career as a national champion of health care quality for senior living and long-term care patients has earned her many accolades.

Once their observation was brought to CIM Director David Hellmann, Ousley says, he quickly began bringing nurses into CIM’s fold, by tapping into the insights and expertise of a variety of nursing experts at different points and for different projects. Now, the nursing profession has achieved a new level of visibility and far-reaching impact at CIM with the establishment of the first nurse CIM Scholar. The scholarship’s funder? None other than Ousley.

“Humanizing medicine is nursing. The holistic perspective we bring as nurses is about humanizing the patient experience, about including the patient’s entire family, about sitting with emotion.” – Abshire Saylor

Martha Abshire Saylor, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, has been selected to receive the CIM Scholar support. Abshire Saylor, who has clinical experience in cardiac and critical care, has done research aimed at helping patients better manage heart failure. Her most recent research project, “HERoIC,” focuses on the caregivers of patients with heart failure. Her goal: to determine whether providing holistic support for caregivers can improve the quality of life for both patients and those who care for them.

It is that focus on valuing the individual, and on improving the individual’s experience of health care, that drew Ousley to support Abshire Saylor and her work. “Martha’s approach ties in so well to CIM’s mission to humanize medicine,” Ousley says. “So much of humanizing medicine is just listening. And nowhere is this needed more than with older individuals, who so many times are just written off because of their age.

“From what I have learned in my career, if we value the individual and everything about the individual through to their very last breath, then that is some of the most noble work we can do.”

Abshire Saylor says she is deeply grateful for Ousley’s support and honored to be the first nurse CIM Scholar.

“Nurses make up the largest proportion of licensed providers in our health care system,” Abshire Saylor notes. “Enacting innovation in health care will only happen if nurses are engaged and in leadership positions — from conception to implementation. We need to work as a team from the very beginning. That’s a root belief for me,” she says.

As nurse leader, Abshire Saylor says she is particularly well-positioned to advance the efforts of CIM’s new Initiative for Humanizing Medicine (IHM). “Humanizing medicine is nursing,” she says. “The holistic perspective we bring as nurses is about humanizing the patient experience, about including the patient’s entire family, about sitting with emotion.”

Abshire Saylor will meet with nurses and nursing leaders across Johns Hopkins to raise awareness around the Initiative for Humanizing Medicine and to encourage nurses to apply for grant funding from the IHM to pursue patient- or family-focused projects.

“The CIM Scholar funding will also benefit my own research,” says Abshire Saylor. “It gives me thinking and working space that will really advance my work involving caregivers.” 

As hospital length of stay has grown shorter, driven largely by financial pressures from insurers, “we are depending on families more and more to help transition patients out of the hospital and back home” — work that involves navigating medication changes, making meals, helping loved ones shower and dress, and transporting them to appointments, she says. With chronic diseases like heart failure and dementia, caregiving really has no end point. 

“Until now, most of the emphasis with caregivers has involved teaching them to provide care to the patient,” says Abshire Saylor. “What’s been missing, and what projects like HERoIC are addressing, is a focus on providing support for caregivers themselves.” 

Ousley says she is thrilled to see nursing gain a prominent new seat at the CIM table and that Abshire Saylor is the ideal candidate to forge partnerships with physicians and others on the health care team to improve the patient experience. 

“I have been excited about everything CIM has done during years I have served on the board,” says Ousley. “But nothing has excited me more than the Initiative for Humanizing Medicine.”