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Education & Empowerment

The orthopedic unit at UCSD Medical Center - Hillcrest is ADVANCE's Best Nursing Team of 2008.

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The central goal of any great team isn't simply to lead, point the way or just tell others what to do. A great team creates a vision, constructs a clear plan and understands the risks involved on the way to the reward. Still, no matter how well-thought-out the strategy might be, information without action is futile.

The signature of a great team is the ability to empower others to put the perfect plan into motion. It's the understanding that goals always get higher so teams must grow larger, dream bigger. It's the insight of knowing the best teams don't merely lead, they teach others to become leaders.

Humble Beginnings

For Patrick Olsen, BSN, RN, nurse manager of the orthopedic unit at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Medical Center - Hillcrest, the Bonafide Orthopaedic Nursing Educational Symposium (BONES) had a rather humble beginning. What came out of a discussion during a staff member's evaluation 3 years ago would evolve into an amazing undertaking of education and empowerment even he couldn't have predicted.

"In the course of our conversation, we identified a need an ongoing continuing education program for UCSD staff with an orthopedic focus," Olsen explained. "It started in such a simple, organic way, which is why I believe it just grew the way it did."

What struck Edna Tabladillo, BSN, RN, who was having her evaluation that day, was the realization that such an event could be created not only for nurses, but by nurses, as well. The feeling of empowerment was instantaneous.

"The idea for the symposium was totally empowering and created the realization that as nurses, we had the ability to meet our own needs," Tabladillo shared.

Innovation & Involvement

Ignited by the idea of creating a continuing education event, the BONES planning committee members, including staff nurses, nurse managers, case managers, clinical nurse educators and executive assistants from both UCSD orthopedic units, immediately set to work devising an agenda. Creating teams of 3-4 nurses to work on storyboard poster presentations for the event created an atmosphere of collaboration and a sense of personal investment.

"The educational storyboards used in the symposium presentations really created a sense of cohesiveness by providing an opportunity for our team members to work very closely outside the hospital environment," Olsen explained.

A Will & a Way

Pulling together an impressive curriculum that included the latest treatments and technologies, presented by many of the leading physicians, nurses and specialists in the field, was more than a magic trick for the team. With virtually no funding, it was an accomplishment born out of sheer ambition.

Planned for Oct. 30, International Orthopaedic Nurses Day, the response to the registration offering was both overwhelming and shocking. The 110-seat hospital auditorium immediately sold out.

"We were so successful right out of the gate that our orthopedic clinic closed because the administration felt it was so valuable for staff to attend," Olsen beamed. "In my department, we literally had to draw straws to see who could go because someone had to stay behind and keep things running."

"We were thrilled to see so many of our orthopedic specialists even took the day off because they felt what was happening was important and wanted to be a part of it," added Zennie Aquinde, RN.

Making a Name for Themselves

In the midst of their success, it wasn't enough for the team members to provide nurses with the most current education available in orthopedics treatment and technology. They had the insight to provide that information in the most accessible way possible - through the voices of their own peers.

The committee was insistent on heightening the profile of staff nurses in the event by providing them with the opportunity to present their findings alongside physicians, oftentimes juxtaposing a doctor/nurse viewpoint in the same session. By encouraging nurses to present shoulder-to-shoulder with physicians, the committee elevated the significance of nurses and garnered them the respect and recognition they deserved, from those in administration right down to the front lines.

"This is a nursing-driven event," Olsen stressed. "So, while we're very appreciative to have some of the best orthopedic specialists presenting at the symposium, we do our best to keep our front-line nurses at the core of what's happening. They're the ones doing it every day."

To provide the complete healthcare perspective, patients have even been invited to participate. Olsen recalled a poignant moment when a former patient agreed to return to the facility to present the keynote address.

"To see her walk on stage as a bilateral amputee and present the address really brought the impact of what we do as nurses full circle because so many of us took care of her," Olsen recalled.

The Secret Ingredient

No matter how well-planned an event may be, the biggest challenge always seems to be keeping the attendees engaged. Holding the attention of the audience was never a problem for the BONES planning committee because they knew the secret ingredient to real learning is it has to be fun. The fact that the event happens so close to Halloween is no accident.

"We take the decorations as seriously as we take the content," Tabladillo laughed. "The package is as important as the message inside it."

In addition to dressing in costume, presenters are encouraged to take every advantage of the season in presenting their material. A great theme always works and so do excellent giveaways. The symposium is famous for its donated big-ticket prizes that keep people in their seats and at attention.

"The gifts are so great no one ever leaves early," Aquinde said. "When have you ever seen that?"

If You Build It...

The team is living proof that if you build the best possible continuing education program, the best of the profession will come to support you. The event has outgrown its venue every year since 2005 and is now hosted by a local hotel conference center. The word has gotten out and nurses and physicians from surrounding hospitals and health systems are clamoring to participate and attend. Now there's a waiting list to do both.

The event has even earned the official endorsement of the National Association of Orthopaedic Nurses. The success still seems like a dream t the planning committee.

"Its one thing to know you're helping to expand the knowledge of your peers and providing the best care through sharing information," Aquinde offered. "That by itself is so satisfying. Our sense of accomplishment was taken to another whole level when the community and surrounding health institutions started to respond."

No matter how the symposium continues to grow, its future success is guaranteed. It's because this team understands the perfect combination for accomplishing its goals.

"We've never thought about filling seats. We've always been focused on providing the highest quality content," Tabladillo added. "If you provide great opportunities and great service in an environment where people want to be, they'll be there."

Luke Cowles is senior regional editor at ADVANCE.

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