Our Nurses Know: Advocacy
Nearly 20 years ago, Jane Sprayberry became intimately familiar with the health care industry. And it was an experience that changed the course of her career.
“At the time, I cared for a few family members who were critically ill,” Sprayberry said. “And while they were receiving the physical care that they needed, I felt as though there was nobody there advocating for them during a weak, vulnerable time in their lives. Their comfort level wasn’t at the top of the priority list. I wanted to change that.”
So in 2000, Sprayberry left her job as an administrative assistant at an engineering firm and went back to school to earn a nursing degree. Soon after, she joined Michigan Medicine and has been serving patients and families ever since.
A journey toward home (care)
Sprayberry’s first job in the organization was as a technician in the cardiovascular unit. She then became an inpatient nurse at the Frankel Cardiovascular Center before moving down to the outpatient clinic.
“The entire time I was at the CVC clinic, I knew I was making an impact,” Sprayberry said. “But a lot of my time was spent doing phone triaging and I wanted as much 1-on-1 interaction with patients as possible.”
She looked for other opportunities and in 2016 she joined Michigan Visiting Nurses, which provides skilled nursing and rehab services to patients in their own homes. The program, which has been around for more than a century, is made up of more than 100 nurses, nurse practitioners, occupational, physical and speech therapists, social workers and home health aides.
“We see patients who are either unable to travel or who have already been sent home following a surgery or procedure,” Sprayberry said. “It’s a unique opportunity to ensure that patients are getting the care they need while allowing them to be as comfortable as possible.”
Small tasks, big differences
From one day to the next, Sprayberry rarely performs the same tasks.
“There are some patients I’ll only see once a month, while there are others I may see each day,” Sprayberry said. “And we do just about everything, from changing dressings and catheters to assisting with infusions to helping people set up their patient portal.”
While some of the tasks may seem mundane, Sprayberry is always happy to oblige.
“When I enter someone’s home, my top priority is to brighten their day and make them feel better. If I can do that by doing simple things like plug in their cell phone, I’ll do that,” Sprayberry said. “Sometimes it’s the smallest things that make the biggest differences.”
Sprayberry’s role is vital for other reasons as well.
“We’re the eyes and ears on the ground with patients once they leave the clinic or hospital,” Sprayberry said. She and her colleagues carry out assessments of a home, keep track of the medications patients are taking and monitor any wounds that may be healing.
“We need to make sure people are in the best position to succeed,” Sprayberry said. “Some simply want to be comfortable in their final days, while others are looking to bounce back as quickly as possible from surgery.”
Forming personal relationships
Much of Sprayberry’s work — and the work of anyone in MVN — can be challenging.
“We don’t have fellow nurses or doctors down the hall to help us out if something goes wrong,” Sprayberry said. “So we truly have to be able to think on our feet.”
Those in MVN also form a different type of relationship with their patients: “When you see individuals on their turf, you create relationships that are much more personal,” Sprayberry said.
That makes the job even more rewarding.
“I was recently helping a patient and educating her on using a diuretic. She was incredibly resistant at first,” Sprayberry said. After an afternoon of explaining the benefits of staying on top of her health, the patient finally began taking the diuretic.
“She immediately saw her shortness of breath go away,” Sprayberry said. “It helped her realize that I was there to advocate for her, to give her a plan and help her execute it. And while I can’t fix everything in her life — or in any of my patients’ lives — I can make a difference. That’s what keeps me going every day.”