Talking Shop with Karen Hendrickson, vice president and chief nursing officer, Southeast Missouri Hospital

Monday, June 7, 2010
Southeast Missouri Hospital Chief Nursing Officer Karen Hendrickson poses in her offie Friday, June 4, 2010. (LAURA SIMON)

As a vice president and the chief nursing officer at Southeast Missouri Hospital, Dr. Karen Hendrickson, EdD, RN works with more than 600 nurses to help ensure quality patient care. Her career as a nurse has taken her from the bedside to the boardroom and even to hospitals across the world.

Q: How did you get your start in nursing?

A: I've just always wanted to be a nurse. As a girl growing up you generally had two choices: to teach or be a nurse. I went to Barnes Hospital School of Nursing in St. Louis and helped set up first intensive care unit at Southeast Missouri Hospital in 1969. At that time it was the first intensive care unit in the region. Nursing still anchors my professional practice, but it's enabled me to become part of the executive team now. I see that we don't lose focus on what we're here for: our patients.

Q: Tell me about your position working as vice president and chief nursing officer since 1982.

A: I'm responsible for the practice of nursing, regardless of where that care is provided in the hospital. I make rounds. One of the hallmarks of who I am is the concept of management by walking around. I feel a great sense of responsibility to make sure our focus is not solely on the business of health care but to remember we're here because of the patient. I am less comfortable in my office than I am at someone's bedside. A nurse will always be a nurse. That couldn't be taken from me.

Q: What's the most important role of a nurse?

A: To be the patient's advocate, to help them understand what's happening to them. To help the family get through difficult circumstances. We are eyes and ears of the physicians. This puts a tremendous responsibility on the nurse. One of the privileges of being a nurse in my own community is that it has given me the opportunity to take care of people who have influenced my life. I held the hand of a teacher of mine as they died, I was there for the birth of a best friend's baby, and still now I get a phone call from someone I haven't seen in years who says to me. "I'm having some difficulties and I need some help." I'm usually not the one to help them, but I can find them the resources they need.

Q: What are some of the memorable experiences you've had through nursing?

A: I have had phenomenal experiences as a nurse. I traveled to China representing Southeast Missouri Hospital and Southeast Missouri State University as part of a partnership we had. I've also been on a Western European health care tour where I gave a guest lecture and shared the American nurse's story. Two years ago I went to Switzerland to present my work "Ensuring Global Resources for Health/Recruitment and Retention 24/7" at a medical conference. Last summer I traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, to meet the family of a former Southeast nursing student. I had been her host mother and as a result got involved in the International Student program at Southeast. She's now working in Chicago.

Q: What are your proudest accomplishment of your nursing career?

A: It was my vision that we should open the Southeast Missouri Hospital College of Nursing. It was important because the university had closed its associate degree nursing program and that was the only associate degree nursing program at that time in this community. I was concerned that our two hospitals would have difficulty being able to staff their nursing needs without that program. That was at a time when hospital-based schools were closing all over the country. With no junior college here, people were going to have to travel outside the community to get a degree. I also founded the Cape Career and Technology Center's Licensed Practical Nursing program. I'm also very proud of our hospital's designation as a Magnet hospital by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. It's the highest honor any nursing service department can achieve. We put documentation together and earned it the first time in 2004. It was redesignated in 2009. Magnet hospitals, as compared to non-Magnet hospitals, have better nurse-to-patient ratios, higher nurse satisfaction and higher patient satisfaction for the care provided. It is a worldwide certification. We are among only 2 percent of the hospitals worldwide that have ever received the designation twice. I've received the state's Outstanding Missourian Award and the Southeast Missouri State University's Alumni Merit Award from the College of Health and Human Services, where I earned my bachelor's and master's degrees.

Q: Tell me about the organizations you have been a part of over the years.

A: I served on the Missouri State Board of Nursing for 5 years. This is the regulatory body charged with protecting the public. I served as president for two years. I was appointed once by a Republican governor and once by a Democrat governor. I stay active with the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce, having served on the chamber board in the past. I currently serve on the leadership development committee. I also work with older adult ministry at Grace United Methodist Church.

Q: Tell me about your family. Has it been a struggle to balance career and family responsibilities?

A: My mother, Margie Crites, is still living in Jackson where I grew up, and she's one of the reasons I'm as successful as I am. My mother thought it was wasteful to be idle. My father, Rusby Crites, was a former Cape County Clerk. My husband Jim Hendrickson has been the director of pharmacy here at Southeast for 42 years. We have two sons, Rhett and wife Jennifer, and Ryan. We have one granddaughter. It's a real challenge to balance family and a professional life, therefore it takes the entire family to come together. That's the beauty of living in a community with family support.

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