When Bloomsburg University and Geisinger Health System join forces, the result is well-prepared students, many of whom find careers they love at the Danville-based system that serves more than 2.6 million residents in 44 counties.
When she first came to work at Geisinger Medical Center, Susan Fetterman planned to stay a year. Thirty-two years later, she’s still there, still caring for patients – but no longer at their bedsides.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d have these responsibilities,” Fetterman says. “I get to learn so many different things. Research, technology, innovation – I get to work in every one of those fields.”
As a vice president of Geisinger’s Division of Medicine, her work takes her from an office on the third floor of the facility’s main building in Danville across most of Pennsylvania, wherever her department physicians and hospitals are located.
Fetterman’s career began in a more traditional way. She started out at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, N.J. “I simply wanted to be a nurse, to make a difference in patients’ lives,” she recalls. “I wanted to be able to take care of people and make them feel better. I always felt I would be at the bedside.”
She came to Geisinger to work in the cardiac intensive care unit. A few short months later, she was promoted to unit manager; she continued on despite her original decision to be a short-timer. Along the way, she married and started a family, raising two daughters with the help of her supportive husband.
But two back surgeries forced her to revise her original dream of caring for patients personally. She could no longer do some of the lifting nurses find necessary. “Today,” she says, “I practice nursing differently.”
Part of that difference is due to a Bloomsburg University program that allowed her to combine a Master of Science in Nursing with a Master in Business Administration, giving her a perspective on health care that includes science and business, as well as the nurse’s view. She was the first graduate of the combined program, receiving her MSN and MBA degrees in 2004, after earning a bachelor’s degree in 2000.
Fetterman sees Bloomsburg’s new Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), starting in summer 2015, as a great opportunity not only for students but for hospitals and residents of the region.
“We have many people needing health care who don’t know where or how to access their care,” she says. There continue to be shortages of doctors with a growing patient demand and rising medical costs. She believes nurses who have earned DNPs, working as part of a team, can provide much needed access to care at lower cost to the health care system.
“This BU program will allow Geisinger access to this level of nursing practice for patients and enable us to develop innovative models of care,” Fetterman says. “That’s what’s exciting about health care: when you can use different team members and develop new models of care – participate in innovation.”
That’s one of the skills Fetterman brings to her job at Geisinger. She works with doctors and staff to develop and use technologies that lower patient costs and travel times, provide access to medical care for people who might not have received it otherwise – populations such as the elderly and low-income individuals.
One innovation Fetterman is most excited about is TeleICU, which she helped bring to the hospital in 2010. With the program, a doctor can meet face-to-face with a patient in a remote intensive care unit and help that bedside team provide care without the patient and family traveling to Danville. Other “tele” medicine initiatives allow patients to remain near their families while undergoing treatment in their own physician’s office and give doctors additional help treating medical issues, such as rheumatology and pulmonary diseases.
“We do many ‘tele’ things,” she says, including teledermatology. “ ‘Tele’ is exciting.”
She believes technology makes information about resources and support easier to come by for patients, their families and their caregivers. “We don’t have the educational and care support systems ready for this large aging population and we need to get them ready,” Fetterman says. “Patients need to know what to expect and need to put things in place for themselves. But most people” – she makes a dismissive gesture in the air – “say, ‘Oh, that’s later on, I won’t worry about that.’ ”
When asked about the possibility of nontraditional students going back to school, she’s encouraging – she walked that road herself when she got her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and master’s degrees.
As a nontraditional student “you not only meet some pretty cool kids and really learn from their enthusiasm, but you also learn from their questions and learn where we should be focusing a little more. We learn from each other and you need to keep an open mind.”
Fetterman is passionate about nursing and the many opportunities a nursing career provides. She works with the BU nursing department to educate nurses of the future, and she enjoys mentoring university students at Geisinger.
“Stay open,” she encourages students. “Keep your heart and hands open for where your career may take you. You don’t need to go to school for the rest of your life, but you should always keep learning. I have found in my career that when you do the right things for the patient, success will come.” •
Laurie Creasy is a freelance writer and social media professional based in Bloomsburg.