The special bond is apparent in the lively banter that occurs when Bill Yerges and Betsy Bazur-Leidy discuss their pediatric nursing careers.
Their story starts with the nurse-patient relationship they shared more than 30 years ago.
In 1985, an 11-year-old Yerges was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and underwent a bone marrow transplant during a three-month hospitalization at the University of Wisconsin Children's Hospital, now known as the American Family Children's Hospital. Bazur-Leidy was new to her job at 23 years old and was one of the primary nurses taking care of Yerges.
Today, Yerges and Bazur-Leidy are both making impacts at that same hospital, on different floors and in distinct ways. Their connection, as well as the individual experiences they've had, have shaped the outstanding clinical practice of both nurses.
It Takes a Team
Yerges is a care team leader with the Pediatric Universal Care Unit and has helped implement processes to better serve and communicate with complex care patients and their families. He also instructs new nurses on system improvements on the unit.
Yerges says he realizes that medical professionals need to come together to achieve a goal of family-centered patient care, instead of working independently from each other.
"Sometimes we lose focus of that [family-centered patient care] since we become so isolated in our own practice," Yerges says. "As a nurse, you become isolated in your own nursing practice. As a physician, you focus on your physician work.
"We've really set a standard throughout the [hospital] to break down those silos that confine disciplines and really start to bring them together so that they're overlapping and talking."
One initiative is known as virtual visitor, a Skype-like tool which allows parents to connect with physicians and nurses when the doctor stops in their child's hospital room. Parents express concerns and converse with medical staff to better understand their child's treatment when they aren't able to be at their child's bedside. The parent could be at home or sitting at a desk in their office.
Whether a patient is hospitalized for a spinal fusion procedure over four days or has a six-month stay in the neonatal intensive care unit for a new trachea, Yerges and his colleagues make plans and adjust that outline from admission all the way to discharge.
"We start looking at family needs, looking at medical needs, nursing needs, the education and rehabilitation," says Yerges, who's worked at American Family Children's Hospital since 2005.
"We really start looking at how to get them home and how to get them to stay home. Not to go home and come back."
One facet of Bazur-Leidy's job is working as nurse coordinator with the Pediatric and Adolescent Transgender Health, or PATH, clinic. It opened in 2012 and Bazur-Leidy was its founding nurse. Bazur-Leidy, whose nursing career spans 31 years, also works in the pediatric endocrine clinic.
The hospital's LGBTQ task force—comprised of UW hospital employees and one teenage patient representative—meets monthly, and Bazur-Leidy says she's proud to work for UW Health, which offers fair and equitable health care for every person who comes through the door, regardless of gender identification or sexual preference.
The clinic staff has seen an uptick of inquiries at the PATH clinic in the wake of topics in the news, including the transgender bathroom bill and legal issues within the transgender community. There has been such a high demand for appointments at the clinic—open Tuesday mornings on a monthly basis—that the wait for an open slot could be five or six months. The task force met this fall to strategize on ways to increase availability.
"We've got a good thing going and I think families are so appreciative," says Bazur-Leidy, "whether a child is questioning or on that spectrum or they've completely transitioned with a legal name change ... sometimes we have that at 5 or 6 years old."
The PATH clinic offers a medical exam, puberty blockers and/or gender affirming hormones when criteria are met and extends support and resources to patients, their families, the community and to other health care providers. Gender-affirming hormones of estrogen or testosterone can be administered to a teenager as young as 15 with strong supporting documentation from a mental health provider who has experience working with transgender youth. However, no surgeries are performed at the pediatric clinic.
Bazur-Leidy estimates the staff has established care with about 50 patients. Working at the PATH clinic has given the veteran nurse a wealth of emotional and rewarding moments.
"It really is a total privilege when they're starting gender-affirming hormones—that I get to be there for that is so personal and it is a real honor, and I take a minute to let them know that," Bazur-Leidy says.
This is the side of clinical practice that both Bazur-Leidy and Yerges have a special knack for—they're able to care for their patients at the human level.
The back-and-forth exchanges between Yerges and Bazur-Leidy always circle back to praising the accomplishments of the other.
"It's amazing, important work," Bazur-Leidy says of Yerges' initiatives. "I think if you would ask these complex-care families now, whose children were getting services a couple years ago, they would notice a difference. There are less [issues] falling through the cracks."
Yerges, on the other hand, has had an up-close view of Bazur-Leidy's care on many levels.
"Her passion is to really ensure those vulnerable populations get that whole community of health care on board to ensure that they have what they need to thrive," Yerges says. "Not just exist in life but thrive and be who they deserve to be, and who they desire to be."