CSU Voices and Views

Knowing the Signs

By Marny Fern
Director, Patient Care Services
Doctors Medical Center, Modesto
Alumna of CSU Stanislaus (BSN and MSN)

Marny Fern (right) helped create a simple checklist to more quickly recognize sepsis

Marny Fern (right) helped create a simple checklist to more quickly recognize sepsis

As with many people who go into health professions, my inspiration to become a nurse came from witnessing the care that others provided a loved one. I saw good things and bad things in my grandmother’s care when she was hospitalized. I learned by watching the nurses and putting those early lessons into practice as a portion of my grandmother’s home care became my responsibility.

Years later, a 42-year-old woman came into the emergency room during my shift as a staff nurse. Her vague and obscure symptoms were not immediately identified as sepsis – a serious condition resulting from the body’s immune response to a bloodstream infection. This patient is among the condition’s casualties.

Patient deaths have profound impact on health practitioners, especially when the death is sudden and unexpected. Reflecting on the loss of this younger woman to sepsis, it became clear to me that emergency rooms – which specialize in dealing with chest pain, drug overdose, car accidents and other traumatic injury – needed better tools to identify this insidious condition.

When I started the nursing master’s program at CSU Stanislaus, my faculty advisor encouraged me to pick a topic of research that I could sustain interest in throughout the program and the development of a master’s project. My mind went back to the patient lost in the emergency room. I decided to commit to learning more about sepsis.

Sepsis affects nearly 750,000 Americans annually, with more than a quarter ultimately dying from the condition. Multiple vital systems are involved in the body’s response to sepsis, which can lead to organ dysfunction and failure.

Early detection and intervention dramatically changes a sepsis patient’s prognosis. If detected early, treatment is likely to be successful. Once conditions deteriorate to severe sepsis or septic shock, treatment outcomes are much poorer. Unfortunately, initial sepsis symptoms are often obscure and common to many different conditions and diseases when considered individually.

The end result of my project at CSU Stanislaus was a checklist to assist in early identification of sepsis in real world situations. This checklist has been rolled-out across the 49-plus-hospital Tenet Healthcare Corporation in emergency rooms and triage centers with the next step being adoption in pediatrics. These hospitals are located in California and throughout the country.

Ultimately, this is one small part of the work being done by a dedicated group of health practitioners to raise awareness about sepsis. Early detection saves lives and I am always grateful to hear from a patient who was identified and successfully treated as a result of a healthcare provider knowing the early warning signs and acting quickly to treat this condition. My motto is “Recognize Sepsis, Save Lives!”

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3 Comments to “Knowing the Signs”

  1. Philip A. Greiner, Faculty from San Diego, Says:

    What a wonderful example of the power of faculty advisement and student development! Nurses are often in the position to observe patient needs and situational variables that can improve healthcare outcomes. Congratulations to both Marny Fern and her nursing faculty advisor!

  2. Paul Flores, Staff from Long Beach, Says:

    It’s an excellent personal example of quality within the nursing profession to harnass and problem solve in a sustainable and trainable manner by creating, collecting, and analyzing data in a logical manner to benefit the world around them. Imagine the multiplicative effects when this common sense, yet data driven objective approach is integrated into all hospitals emergency/urgent care practices as a component of standards of care with overall emergency/urgent care practices when patients arrive. Congrats to both Marney, her advisor and CSU team approach for making the effort to perceive the problem, foresight to marshal resources to study it , the effort to collect and collaborate, and ultimately share those results to benefit society as a whole. Kudos! :)

  3. Marijke Vroomen Durning, Other  Says:

    Hi – I work with Sepsis Alliance and I wanted to thank you for writing such a thoughtful and informative post, as well as your dedication to helping people with sepsis.

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