Valuing, Nurturing and Developing Our Nurses

Impact Stories

FALL 2023

Nursing is the country’s largest healthcare profession, with more than 5 million registered nurses working in the United States, according to the 2022 National Nursing Workforce Survey.

Thanks to COVID, it’s also one of the most rapidly evolving professions. More than one-quarter of nurses say they plan to either retire or leave the profession in the next five years.

Fortunately, SMH has a longstanding reputation for valuing, nurturing, and developing its nurses, which helped the health system retain a strong clinical workforce through challenging times and continues to attract the best and brightest today.

Sarasota Memorial Health Care System Chief Nursing Officer Connie Andersen and her nursing leadership team continually reevaluate the workplace as they strive to create a supportive environment where nurses can thrive and do their best work.

“Nursing is both a calling and career,” Andersen said. “What draws most nurses to the profession is a desire to make meaningful impacts in the lives of their patients. It is not solely about paying someone more. It’s about supporting nurses’ professional growth and development, encouraging them to take on new roles and responsibilities, and recognizing the value they bring to our team, organization and community.”

Jean Lucas, Chief Nursing Officer for SMH-Sarasota, and Julie Polaszek, Chief Nursing Officer for SMH-Venice, know something about quality nursing care. They have 56 years of combined experience in the profession, with more than 40 of those years spent at SMH.

Giving Our Nurses a Voice
Sarasota Memorial’s nurses are known for their professionalism, compassion, innovation, and pride in their work. Their ability to succeed is due, in large part, to the leadership team that supports them and gives them a voice in their practice.

SMH nurses have a valued stake in the care they provide, taking part in both clinical research and professional governance. “They’re empowered to ask questions like, ‘How can we do this better?’” says Polaszek. “They push the envelope, and they push us to support them in their endeavors to provide better care.”

Part of empowering nurses involves giving them ample opportunities to move up the career ladder through continuing education, certifications, and other programs. Polaszek reflects on her own professional development within the organization. “In the time that I’ve worked there, I’ve gotten my master’s degree. I’ve gone through three different certifications. They put me through a fellowship. They’ve really nurtured and supported my career,” she says.

SMH nurses take pride in their institution, in the care they’re delivering, and in the fact that they have a voice in that care delivery. “That makes it a better work environment, which helps us recruit and retain the best of the best,” says Lucas.

A Supportive Environment
Both Lucas and Polaszek take great pride in the Sarasota Memorial Health Care System—what it has done to advance their careers, and for the community at large. “It’s a great institution,” says Polaszek.

Lucas has long recognized the specialness of SMH and a nursing staff that makes everyone feel like family. Before she was an employee, she was a patient. SMH was where she delivered her son. “This is a really special place,” she acknowledges.

“It’s just wonderful being at an organization that is supportive of nursing,” she adds. “The work isn’t always easy, but it’s easy to come to work every day.”

For the fifth time and 20 years running, SMH-Sarasota has earned Magnet Recognition for nursing excellence from the American Nurses Association’s Credentialing Center. It ranks among an elite 1% of hospitals in the country that have been awarded Magnet status five times or more, and the only hospital in the region to have earned this recognition for the past 20 years.

“Magnet really represents the highest level, the gold standard for nursing excellence,” says Jean Lucas, Chief Nursing Officer, SMH-Sarasota.

Earning Magnet designation in 2023 was an even more impressive accomplishment, given that it happened against the backdrop of the pandemic. In the midst of national labor and supply shortages, SMH opened a new hospital in Venice, and an Oncology Tower in Sarasota, and maintained the highest nursing standards throughout the hospital system.

“It was amazing to achieve that, in spite of the challenges we faced,” says Lucas. “It creates a culture where we’re continuing to raise the bar.”

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