Critical Care Educator is more than a title for Kerri Tillquist — it is a mission. She constantly searches for new ways to ensure the ICU nurses at Medical Center of Aurora know exactly how to care for their patients under any circumstance. This means they will always have something to learn, whether it is understanding a new piece of equipment or adding to their evidence-based critical care nursing skills.

Kerri Tillquist“Don’t study for a certification, or for me, or to get into a school,” she tells the new nurses she guides. “Study because there will come a day, probably sooner than you think, when you are who stands in the gap between your patient living and not.”

With stakes that high, Tillquist wants every ICU nurse to be ready on day one. She developed a Dedicated Education Unit (DEU) for ICU orientation that complements the traditional preceptor training, reinforcing bedside skills with didactic content and hands-on practice prior to transitioning to post-orientation independence.

She created teaching strategies for crucial skills needed, following the patient from ER admission through Cardiac Cath Lab or Interventional Radiology into the ICU. The DEU allows her to impart a depth of knowledge new nurses would not otherwise receive so they fully understand what it means to deliver critical care.

“We have ‘guests and quests,’” she explains. “The guests are subject matter experts, and on quests we go get hands-on experience on the skills that critical care nurses need. For example, if we are discussing the pulmonary system, we work together with a respiratory therapist. Everyone is given mouthpieces so they can try on different ventilator modes so they know what it feels like and can explain it to patients and their families. The level of care then delivered is more thoughtful due to this exposure and education.”

Nurses who go through the DEU emerge more confident they can handle acute situations, while their colleagues in the ICU know they can trust their knowledge and skill sets.

Tillquist received a 2016 division-level HCA Innovators Award for her work establishing the DEU, and this year she is working with other Denver-area ICU educators to help adapt and expand her program to include all hospitals’ new ICU RNs, ensuring they too receive consistent education, support and mentoring.

Knowing that critical care nurses have many options for advancement, Tillquist also created the Critical Care Passport to help them customize a career course. The nurse chooses two- and five-year goals, and the Passport lays out the essential skills and terms needed to reach them.

When putting together the guide, Tillquist reached out to colleagues from her own 40-year career, asking them to list the bottom-line common denominator skills that a critical care nurse should have for different specialties.

In addition to hard skills, Tillquist’s respondents validated her own belief that critical care nursing requires a high degree of emotional caregiving, offering advice such as “Be the calmest person in the room” and “Treat everyone as if they are your parent.”

So, a section of the Passport— Currency — is dedicated to developing those important communication skills.

“I have an obligation with the students to help them navigate their careers, to help them find their strengths and encourage them to develop and pursue them,” she says. “To help them follow their gifts is a
huge privilege.”

Professional Mentoring Finalists

Cindy Esmail, RN-BC, DNP
Tulane Medical Center
New Orleans, Louisiana
According to her co-workers, Cindy Esmail is their role model and champion. As a nurse pr

Cindy Esmail

eceptor whocoaches experienced nurses through the transition to charge nurse, she demonstrates all of the qualities they will need to succeed: attention to detail, compassion for all and dedication to patient care. She helps everyone forge bonds with each other, hosting unit dinners and parties, celebrating personal accomplishments and acknowledging hard work. Once they assume their new roles, Esmail is always available to coach them through challenges, building both their skills and their confidence.

Peter Hoang, MSN, RN, PCCN-K
Medical City Denton
Denton, Texas
A kind and helpful teacher for nurses at all skill levels, Peter Hoang is especially effective in helping new graduates transition to daily nursing work. He understands the challenges they may face, calms their fears and encourages them to excel. He is always available to help his colleagues. First year RN and residency retention rates are at an all-time high, and much of that success can be linked to Hoang’s nurturing of nursing talent.