Top Nurse: Kristin Drager is the nurse’s nurse

Drager was awarded the leadership award
Top Nurse: Kristin Drager is the nurse’s nurse
Ruthie Hauge

When Kristin Drager was a teenager, she decided to test the waters as a certified nursing assistant and says she immediately fell in love with the profession.

After growing up witnessing her mother’s dedication and attention to patients as a nurse at the Black Earth Clinic, Drager decided to become a CNA on her 16th birthday. After that, she became a nursing assistant, then an RN, and in 2012 she completed a master’s degree in nursing.

A trained clinical nurse leader, Drager is currently the acting nurse manager in the emergency department, also known as ED, at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital. She has been a registered nurse for more than 25 years, and has worked with VA hospitals for 18 of those years.

As a clinical nurse leader, Drager says she coaches and empowers other nurses in order to ensure they’re practicing at their highest level.

“The clinical nurse leader is everybody’s nurse. We’re the nurse’s nurse,” Drager says. “We ensure that all the nurses get all the things they need so they can practice successfully.”

One of the educational requirements for becoming clinical nurse leader is the creation and implementation of a project. Drager decided to focus her project on the problem of sepsis in her hospital, which she’d seen for years as an ED nurse.

Sepsis is a life-threatening complication that results from infections. Drager says the condition can adversely affect organs, lead to a drop in blood pressure, worsen health conditions and in some cases lead to death.

“The key [to preventing sepsis] is recognizing it early, giving antibiotics as soon as you can to stop the spread of this infection,” Drager says.

Drager says that after attending a seminar and hearing about another hospital’s sepsis protocol, she knew Madison’s VA hospital needed one as well. She looked at two years of data from the hospital’s ED, formed a committee of stakeholders and worked to create a nurse-driven protocol.

“We wrote the protocol so nurses could take the initiative and get things started but work very collaboratively with our ED docs,” Drager says. “That’s what this whole protocol is built upon; [it’s] really empowering the nurses to recognize it and do it.”

The plan was launched in the ED in 2012 first and is now used throughout the hospital. Drager presented her research at the 2015 American Nurses Credentialing Center National Magnet Conference, the largest yearly nursing conference in the U.S., and at the 2016 VHA Shark Tank Competition. While she didn’t win at the competition, she was a semi-finalist and many other hospitals have adopted the same protocol.

Since the hospital implemented the protocol, the Madison VA hospital has seen a 61 percent drop in mortality rates for patients who were treated. The hospital has also reduced the progression rate by 81 percent and reduced the length of hospital stays of septic patients by 53 percent.

Drager says the initial motivation for becoming a nurse is a desire to care for individual patients. But over time, many nurses want to address the needs of groups of patients in order to solve bigger problems.

“There’s always a new challenge, there’s always something to learn about, there’s always a way to develop and grow into something bigger,” Drager says.