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As Market Director of Critical Care Services at MercyOne Des Moines and West Des Moines, Julie Tuel leads the professionals who care for the most vulnerable patients.
When COVID-19 hit, she managed an initiative to combine three critical care units into a single team and converted a surgery recovery unit into a functioning intensive care in just 24 hours.
“I have been a nurse 17 years and I had never seen or done what we went through last year,” said Tuel.
Teams worked 60-hour weeks in full personal protective equipment and adapted to treatment protocols that could change every few hours, based on directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Public Health.
“It was all of the changing requirements, and the acuity of the patients,” Tuel said. “The virus doesn’t follow the normal trajectory we were used to seeing. To watch the staff be that engaged and mold and change treatment and care every four hours was astonishing.”
Tuel also worked with the infection prevention team to operationalize the protocols and practices to protect her nurses. No one developed the virus. “It was great teamwork, great collaboration, and heartwarming to watch the team come together,” she said.
This year Tuel was named one of the 100 Great Iowa Nurses, an award that honors professionals who have made a meaningful, lasting contribution to their patients, colleagues and profession, and mentored others.
Tuel, 38, spent her childhood with two siblings on a livestock and grain farm in Scranton, showing sheep, helping with the harvest, and “running wild,” she said.
“I loved growing up on a farm. It’s hard work, you learn to be independent, but also to work together as a family, which is huge as you move into a health care career.”
Tuel now has her own farm with her husband, a park ranger, where they are raising their 12-year-old son.
Her mother was a public health nurse, and Tuel would sometimes come along on house calls.
“I remember thinking, ‘There’s no way I’ll ever be a nurse, it’s not for me,’” she said. “I thought I was going to be a teacher.”
Then some friends who worked in a nursing home suggested she join them. The facility paid for classes to become a certified nurse’s aide, and at 16 Tuel discovered her passion for critical care.
“I knew I always wanted to deal with very sick patients and support families during their most vulnerable time,” she said. “But I don’t know leadership was ever in my mind as a 16-year-old. Operations wasn’t not something I thought I’d fall in love with.”
Tuel developed MercyOne’s critical care service line and help build a “dyad” leadership model, a collaborative partnership between a physician and nurse leader considered to be best practice in healthcare. Together they set a strategic plan, align treatment protocols, and track outcomes to continually improve care.
“Instead of being siloed, they are on the same page working with same goals in mind,” Tuel explained. “That dyad relationship has been rewarding because we are able to work together to make significant improvements faster.”
Tuel recently gave a speech at a college for nurse students receiving their white coats. Her advice? “Put the patients and their families first; put yourself in their shoes and treat them as if they were your loved one,” she said. “If you always do that you will never go wrong.”