Top Nurses 2022: Barbara Aughey has an eye for high-level care

A nurse in blue scrubs against a blue background

On an average day, 80 patients with vision-threatening conditions will come into SSM Health’s “emergency room for the eye” — and Barbara Aughey is a quick-acting nurse who helps provide those patients with care.

“Barbara Aughey excels utilizing her outstanding critical thinking, resolute calmness during numerous retinal emergencies, expert technical skills and perpetually reassuring bedside manner,” reads her Top Nurses nomination.

A practicing nurse for 30 years, Aughey is currently a retina nurse at the SSM Health Davis Duehr Dean Eye Care Center. She was nominated by all the doctors she works with — Drs. Mitchell Wolf, Jim Bell and Amol Kulkarni — and her nomination was endorsed by the entire staff on her unit.

“She is careful, thoughtful, detail-oriented, caring and considerate of all members of our team,” Wolf says. “Care delivery during COVID-19 has been challenging, and her professionalism has been critical.”

Aughey has worked in home health care, on a cardiology unit and as a school nurse. Her first job was at University Hospital. Now at the retina clinic, where Aughey started eight years ago as a fill-in nurse before eventually moving into a full-time position, she and her team treat conditions related to the retina — a part in the back of the eye that converts light into electrical signals for the brain to create images. On average, the clinic sees 400 patients per week — each coming there for retinal related diseases, such as macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy, and emergencies like retinal detachments.

COVID-19 added new challenges to a job that was already demanding before the onset of the pandemic. While every day is different, Aughey communicates with doctors and eye technicians to ensure patients consistently receive a high level of care.

One of her favorite parts of the job is working with elderly patients, who make up the majority of people who come to the clinic. “The average age of retina patients is probably 80,” Aughey says. For many of those patients, keeping their vision intact is vital to keeping them independent.

“I still learn something new every day at my job, and as long as I am working there that will be the case,” Aughey says.

Aughey found her calling when she was in college. She was taking science-related courses, but felt lost as an undergraduate.

“But then once I did get into nursing school and started doing the work, I would say, I definitely felt like I fit in,” Aughey says. “I finally felt like I was thriving in that environment.”

Some 30 years later, Aughey continues to provide essential practice and leadership on her team in a very busy unit.

“She has strengthened the retina service immeasurably,” reads her nomination. “The number of patients and families that she has impacted is profound. … She is always eager to learn and is poised to have a leadership role in retina nursing at a national level.”

Meet the other Practice Award recipient and see all six Top Nurses 2022 award winners by clicking here. This article appeared in the September 2022 issue of Madison Magazine.