On a mission to make a difference

When Michelle Strider saw nurses in action, she knew the course of her life had changed forever

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It all started when her brother was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a type of cancer most common among small children. At the time, she was 14. He was 6.

She had thought about a career in medicine before all of that, in the way kids do when they consider ideal future careers. She thought she’d go to medical school and become a doctor. But the two and a half years she spent in and out of the hospital with her brother changed everything.

“The thing that really touched me was just the difference that a caring nurse could make. We would comment on the people who would do little things like use a flashlight when they entered his room at night to take vital signs, rather than flipping on the overhead light,” Strider recalled. “While I still left the hospital with a lot of respect for physicians, it was really the impact I saw the nurses make that stayed with me.”

So Strider became one. She spent time in the cardiac unit and then in the ICU, working at the bedside and emulating the nurses she observed so many years ago. Then, she moved into leadership roles, focusing on projects related to quality. That work resonated, presenting her with an opportunity to change processes to protect patients and team members. Now, she’s the senior director of clinical excellence at Novant Health UVA Health System, working across the system’s three hospitals.

“My everyday work is reviewing processes to make sure that the care we provide is as safe as possible for our team members and our patients. We do proactive risk analyses to make sure our processes are safe. We work with leaders and team members on preventing infection. We work on reducing preventable readmissions. It’s a lot of collaboration,” Strider said.

It’s the kind of work that’s critical in a normal healthcare environment. In a pandemic, the stakes only get higher, and that presented Strider with a new opportunity. As the COVID-19 crisis began to take shape, Novant Health UVA Health System CEO Al Pilong Jr. tapped Strider to co-lead its COVID-19 command center.

“That role is reviewing all clinical care practices that need to be created around COVID-19. So, lots of meetings around what types of masks need to be worn in what types of situations, daily meetings about personal protective equipment to make sure our team members have what they need, daily meetings around processes of cleaning rooms and transferring patients,” Strider said.

“It’s really an honor to be able to advocate for those who are on the front lines,” she said.

“You see these heartbreaking stories in other states where nurses are practicing in trash bags, and the fact that our team members have never had to experience that — and will not have to experience that — is something I’m so proud of for our system.”

The result is remarkable healthcare that is producing some incredible stories — like the one about the very first COVID patient admitted to Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Medical Center who was recently released, 52 days after he arrived.

“We were able to walk him out and just the joy on the team members’ faces was pretty significant,” Strider said. “It’s not routine. It will never be routine. But it seems like it’s hitting a stride now, where team members are stepping up each and every day. Seeing their resiliency has been pretty impactful.”

It’s also given her the opportunity to reflect on her career in nursing and how she’s lived up to the example set by those nurses in her brother’s hospital room all those years ago.

“There are times I miss providing that bedside care. And then I think about our team members and our patients, and it’s just a reminder that every decision we make impacts their safety and helps make them a little bit safer. I think that’s what really grounds me,” Strider said. “They deserve to get the very best right now. And team members need to have someone in their corner. Sometimes it feels like you’ve spent 900 days talking about masking, and then you realize, we’ve got to go over this and go over it again and keep going over it because we have people who depend on us to be safe.”

Some of those people live in Strider’s home. Her husband is a nurse on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19, and their daughter is just 11 years old. “We’ve been very fortunate that everybody’s safe and healthy, and we use the same precautions at home that we teach our other healthcare workers to use,” Strider said.

Her husband leaves his work clothes in the garage when he comes home after work and heads straight into the shower. The family has maintained a social distance from both Strider’s parents and her husband’s. And for a few recent birthdays in the household, they limited themselves to celebrations via videoconference.

They are following the process, taking the necessary steps and being safe. Still, it’s a challenging time, and Strider finds herself focusing on resiliency.

“We talk a lot in the Novant Health UVA Health System about the eight habits of resilient leaders, and some of those are very effective ways to reset your mentality: Stay off social media, go to bed early, get outside,” Strider said. “I think that really helps, and that’s some of what I would encourage people to do is take a step back from it and take precautions and work on your own resiliency.”

You can play a role in the resiliency of the Novant Health UVA Health System by ensuring they don’t have to worry about basic necessities in this time of crisis.

A contribution to the Hope for Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID -19 Disaster Relief Fund) goes a long way toward providing for those who are on the front lines of the pandemic.

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