Emergency health care — urgent, messy, high stress — is not for every nurse, but it is for Margaret "Sissy" Dufour.
Dufour has been working in central Louisiana emergency rooms for her whole career as an RN — including serving as the director of emergency services at Hartdner Medical Center in Olla, La. — and she has proven again and again that she is not afraid to develop more skills and face more challenges to become a better nurse.
In August, Dufour earned her Graduate Certificate in Cardiovascular Nursing from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and she is completing the final requirements to earn her M.S. in Nursing.
Worth the work
What made Dufour want to take an extra 12-credit-hour online program the same year she faced the final stretch of an intense master's degree while working full time in a high-stress field at a high-stress time?
It felt like the next logical step, she says.
Dufour is certified to perform and teach CPR as well as two forms of specialized life support, so the Cardiovascular Nursing program added seamlessly to her patient care tool kit.
“I've been an ER nurse for 15 years. I teach CPR, ACLS [advanced cardiovascular life support], PALS [pediatric advanced life support], and that’s all heart-related,” she says.
The specialized graduate certificate program covers the foundations of cardiovascular care, including chronic cardiovascular disorders, assessment, diagnostic procedures, and advanced skills, like interpreting 12-lead EKG readings.
Even as an experienced nurse, Dufour says the material covered in her classes has helped her feel more confident and capable than before.
“When we do an EKG on a patient, I'm more confident now reading that EKG, and I can call the doctor and say ‘Hey, this is what I see,’” she says.
Streamlining, humanizing diagnostics
Dufour's career has brought her to the nexus of cardiovascular health care, emergency medicine, and rural community medical care. She understands the systemic issues facing patients and providers and says she’s now more ready and able to help solve problems through communication, cooperation, and technology.
Advanced practice nurses with cardiovascular training and credentials — like Dufour — can work with new telecardiology protocols to help smaller clinics save time and travel strain on patients presenting with cardiovascular symptoms.
“If somebody comes in [to their local ER] and says they're having chest pain — usually in the past we would transfer everyone out to a bigger facility and when they got to there, that staff would just repeat the cardiac enzymes test or the EKG and send them home to follow-up,” Dufour explains.
“Well, now [through telecardiology] we can assure the doctor that this patient can be admitted. They don’t have to be referred to a cardiologist right then [and wait for a consultation] because a cardiologist or a cardio nurse practitioner looked at them and assessed them [remotely] to tell us what they need.”
Refining the quality and sophistication of cardiovascular diagnostics available in rural communities also helps Dufour and her colleagues to meet patients’ needs on a human level. The old protocol for transfers and long wait times with specialists could strain a patient’s resources and exacerbate already tense situations. Being assessed and receiving care locally can take that edge off.
“See, some people don’t want to leave [the area for treatment], don’t want to leave a partner. They’re like ‘This is my town. This is where I live, and I don’t have transportation.’ So, it helps them stay close to home and still get care,” Dufour says.
Upon completion of her MSN, Dufour will serve as a family nurse practitioner in the emergency room at CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Alexandria.
In addition to her wealth of work experience, she's bringing with her a new grasp of assessments, diagnostic procedures, and pharmacological symptom management.
“I gained a lot of experience in diagnosis and management for cardiovascular disease and peripheral vascular disorders,” she says.
Clinical hours under the graduate certificate curriculum also gave Dufour a front row seat to observe cutting edge medical developments through a partnership with the Cardiovascular Institute of the South.
She watched qualified specialists perform Watchmen implants, a device that allows patients with atrial fibrillation to stop taking blood thinners, as well as an Impella heart pump.
She also observed coronary artery disease angioplasty and learned new methods for congestive heart failure management.
Dufour is looking forward to using what she’s learned in practice.
“I learned a tremendous amount going through this program,” she says.
Are you passionate about heart health? Ready to add new proficiencies to your patient care and skill set? Request information about the Graduate Certificate in Cardiovascular Nursing available through UL Lafayette Online and the College of Nursing & Health Sciences.