Nurse Kathy Patelski Challenges Herself and Educates Her Patients

Wednesday, May 07, 2014 9:57 AM

Kathy Patelski has been a nurse at NorthShore Skokie Hospital for five years but she has been caring for patients in various nursing roles since 1979. Her passion for the medical field developed early and has only grown over the years. Not content to rest on her laurels, Kathy never misses a chance to seek out new challenges and opportunities for personal and professional growth. She currently works in ambulatory surgery, but four years ago she jumped at the opportunity to become a part of the Patient Education Program at the NorthShore Total Joint Replacement Center. In these patient-focused classes, she prepares prospective total joint replacement patients for the journey ahead.

As part of Nurses Week, Kathy tells us what first inspired her to become a nurse and why a “thank you” from a patient means so much: 

What brought you to nursing? Was there something that inspired this career choice?
Many years ago, I used to watch Marcus Welby, M.D. and some of the other medical shows on TV and I just thought, that looks like such a cool, fun thing to do. And that’s just where it all started. 

From there, I started as a nursing assistant when I was in high school, and even before that I was a candy striper. Throughout, I always thought, this feels good. I can do this. As I was going through college in nursing school, a good friend’s father, who was an anesthesiologist, gave me some advice. He told me that when I got out of school, I should go immediately to an ICU or an ER. He said, “That is where you continue your education. That’s where you don’t develop bad habits. That’s where you get all the good habits.” He emphasized, “Go to those two departments and you will become a better nurse because you will have to.” And it’s true because you have to think on your feet and react quickly.

So that’s what I did. I listened to him and I worked in the ICU for many years, and, now ambulatory surgery. And now with NorthShore, I have this nice perk of working with joint patients.

You work in ambulatory surgery at NorthShore but you're also part of the Patient Education Program at NorthShore’s Total Joint Replacement Center. What role do you play in the patient education process?

[Note: The Patient Education Program guides patients through the entire process of total joint replacement. Patients are asked to attend a class prior to surgery conducted by specially trained nurses. The class educates patients on how to achieve the best possible outcome before, during and after surgery.]

Patients come in just wanting to have a knee or a hip replaced. And in our experience, patients aren’t necessarily breaking down our doors to come to the class, which isn’t required but recommended prior to surgery. Most are told that they need to come by their doctors. But at the end of every class I heard, “You know I really didn’t want to come. I was really pushing my doctor not to make me come, but I’m so glad I did. It put my mind at ease. I’m not as afraid as I used to be.” And I like being a part of doing that. 

The nurses who teach the classes get to help patients know more and be less afraid. They’ve heard lots of different information from friends, family and all kinds of people telling what this surgery is going to be like.  Some come to the classes and they are in so much pain, hobbling and limping. They’re using canes and walkers and they are just looking miserable. And to be a part their transition … that’s a great thing to see. 

Why do you think educating patients is so important?
Patients that are educated understand what’s coming. The nurses on the floor can always tell if a patient has been to class or not. The educated patient knows what the treatment plan is and they know what their part in it is as well. The patients that have been to class are like, “Okay let’s get going. Let’s get moving and do it.”

Orthopaedics isn’t part of your day-to-day job in the ambulatory surgery department. Why did you decide to take on an extra task like this?
I thought it was a neat opportunity. I had worked orthopaedics years and years ago while I was still in nursing school. It’s something in medicine that is great to see. Patients come in one way—hurting and in a lot of pain—and then they leave almost with a new lease on life. They’re just feeling so much better and they can see that their walking, sitting, bending are in a better place, and will only improve. When the opportunity to be a part of it arose, I thought I should give it a try.  

It’s a great spectrum of experience. So while we don’t directly oversee the care of the patients after surgery, we do have input into their care. And it is fun to teach a patient class and then see them the day of surgery. They come in and they are little nervous and then they see your face, a face they recognize, and they immediately feel that someone’s in their corner, someone is going to take care of them. 

And then I always see them after and ask, “Did the class help?” And 99 percent answer, “Everything you said, it happened exactly as you said it would.” When a patient says that what I taught helped, that’s music to my ears. 

Do you have a favorite memory from your career thus far?
It’s just when patients thank you. Not just a, “Hey thanks,” but when it is from their heart. You can tell. Or when someone from their family comes up to you to say that you really made a difference in how we handled this process, when they just genuinely want to say thank you.  You didn’t do anything but do your job, but they appreciate it so it feels good. 

You can Say Thanks And Recognize (STAR) NorthShore's remarkable nurses by contributing to our Nursing STARs Scholarship Program here.

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