Nurse Educators Set the Tone For Compassionate, Competent Care

Wendy Distaffen, RN-BC, RAC-CT, QCP

Wendy Distaffen knows that it takes a certain type of mindset to effectively teach and mentor the next generation of long-term caregivers.  “It’s a beautiful thing when you see somebody who is excited about what they’re doing and excited about their (career) growth,” says Distaffen, St. John’s QAPI Practice Partner who also oversees MDS efforts. “To help those people grow, you really need someone who can match that excitement and is able to foster it in others.”

Distaffen—a long-time nurse who followed her mother’s career path when she entered the field—recently taught a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) certification class made up of temporary nurse aides. These employees were unique from the makeup of other CNA trainings in that they had on-the-job training prior to getting certified, a result of the immediate need for health care workers through the COVID-19 pandemic. What Distaffen saw were many engaged health care professionals eager to grow. Some in her class have since entered nursing school to further their education as they continue caring for residents at St. John’s. To her, professional development starts with the right people being shown the right way to do things by the right kind of educator. “It is about lifting each other up and supporting each other,” she says.

“Our nurse educators don’t just educate by using their words,” says assistant director of nursing Julie Wood. “They lead by example and model the behavior and actions we want all of our clinical staff at St. John’s to demonstrate.”

St. John’s Home Director of Nursing Diane Bogaczyk echoes those sentiments.  “Our educators do more than just teach in the classroom,” she said. “They also teach on the floors, working side-by-side with the nursing staff.”

Monica Epps, RN

When Monica Epps was offered a full-time role as a nurse educator at St. John’s, she knew that network of nurses would help support her efforts. “I work with a great team of nurses,” says Epps, who took on the St. John’s RN Educator role after spending years as an overnight nurse at St. John’s Home.

When Epps made the switch to nurse educator, her shift to a daytime schedule led to a dramatic lifestyle shift. However, she is happy to be leading the CNA training and the hands-on nature of the job fits her perfectly at this point in her career. “Now, I come in every morning and know that somebody is depending on me,” she says. She admits it is a big responsibility to know that her fellow nurses, aspiring nurses and nursing assistants (also known as shahbazim), and even residents, are relying on her to help cultivate a growing, dependable workforce. “I try my best to lead by example,” she says. “I’m going to work hard to continue to help shape and mold the nurses of the future. We’re going to grow together.”

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