Honoring Cleveland Clinic Nurses: Meet Five Bedside Nurses

These heartfelt bios reflect why nursing is one of the most trusted professions

In honor of Year of the Nurse, Notable Nursing reached out to some of its bedside nurses to learn about their paths to their career and what they love most about their chosen profession. Their backgrounds are diverse and their responses enlightening.

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According to the 2019 Gallup poll, nurses are the most trusted profession in the country for the 18th year in a row, with 85% of Americans saying nurses’ “honesty and ethical standards are ‘very high’ or ‘high.’”

Quick Take

  • Nurses make up 25% of the caregiver employee population at Cleveland Clinic
  • Our featured nurses have combined experience of nearly 100 years
  • Reasons for going into nursing often include a family connection and a natural inclination to take care of people.

Elizabeth Barr, BSN, RN, knew from a young age that she wanted to be a nurse. She started working as a bedside nurse at Cleveland Clinic’s main campus in 1979 and today works as a bedside nurse with the transplant unit. She went to college in New York, and when she came to Cleveland Clinic, she was one of the few RNs with a four year degree.

What made you want to be a nurse?

I became a nurse after following my aunt – who by the way is 95 years old now – around a very small hospital in Staunton, Virginia. She was the director of nursing, and during the summer I was a candy striper. She opened my eyes to the world of nursing and to having compassion for everyone. She let me stay in the nursing dorm and listen to all the stories of the workday.

How have things changed in 40 years?

Increased technology is the number one change. There is also an increased push for education programs and certifications. We have the ability now to be educated as a vascular access registered nurse (VARN), chemotherapy nurse, peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) nurse and an advanced practice nurse. We are well rounded and share our knowledge with the world via speaking at conferences. And today, there are multiple teams led by advanced nurses who can come to my rescue if I need help with things like stomas, IV lines, wound care or tracheotomies. Also, the role of the patient care nursing assistant (PCNA) has really helped bedside nurses.

What does it take to be a nurse today? 

It takes emotional strength, muscular strength, and time to hold hands and listen to people. You also have to be able to listen to new graduate nurses, experienced nurses and physicians who are trying to decide what to do to help patients. You also need to care for yourself.

What advice do you give to young nurses?

My advice is to have a really good mentor who will follow you on your total journey as a nurse – that person who will let you cry on your bad days and not judge you when you have lots of questions. You need a manager who believes in you and will smile with all your advancements. Clinical nurses who work in hospital unit settings are the backbone of Cleveland Clinic. We see everything from birth to death. We sing and laugh with every patient and family. We as nurses need to take care of each other and give each other a break if the work gets too difficult to handle. Enjoy your family and pets!

Sandra Wisniewski, BSN, RN, has been with Cleveland Clinic since 2000. She received her associate degree in nursing in 1992 at a community college and her BSN in 2013 through the online program at Ohio University.

What made you want to be a nurse? 

My name, Sandra, actually means helper, and nursing seemed to be the perfect profession for me. When I was first in college, I was studying to become a teacher. I started working at a hospital as a unit secretary and became very interested in nursing. I immediately changed my major.

What has changed the most since you started?

When I first started as a nurse, I worked in a small hospital environment that was so different than where I am now. Cleveland Clinic has grown so much in the past 20 years. There are so many new positions and departments. There are so many more opportunities than when I was a new nurse. Nurses can receive better support for advancing their education – opportunities are more diverse now compared to the 1990s. And computer charting makes everything so much easier now.

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Your advice to young nurses?

Stay humble and keep a positive attitude. Expand your horizons and keep advancing your education. When you are feeling burned out, make a change; try another type of nursing. And always ask for help. Being a bedside nurse is not easy! At Cleveland Clinic there is a lot of support from the management team of each unit. They are there for not only for routine help, but also for emotional support.

Bryan Smith, BSN, RN, originally received a bachelor’s degree in homeland security and emergency management while he was on active duty in the Navy. He went on to enter an accelerated bachelor’s degree program through Baldwin Wallace University and has been a nurse for a year now in the ICU stepdown unit at Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital.

What made you want to be a nurse? 

I have always been that person who loved taking care of people. When I decided to separate from the service, I had a small crisis because I knew I wanted to continue making a difference. After discussing this with my ma, who has been a nurse for 34 years now, she pointed me in the direction of nursing, and I have never looked back. I was shocked at how different nursing school and real nursing are – a complete night-and-day difference. We rely on technology, but I really like paper charting – something tangible in hand that I can hold.

What advice do you give young nurses?

Always strive to learn and always ask questions. Nothing suggests arrogance from a new nurse at their first job more than not asking when something is in question. Asking questions shows you want to learn and do better. The teamwork that is displayed at Cleveland Clinic is second to none. You will not find caregivers more dedicated to their patients anywhere else.

It takes a lot to be a nurse, there is no doubt about that. Your needs always take a back seat to those around you. This path means you may not be thanked and you have to deal with people’s worst days. However, if in the end you have made even the slightest difference in someone’s life, it all becomes worth it.

Erika Yost, BSN, RN, has worked with organ transplant patients for almost 10 years. She is also a preceptor, training new graduate nursing students for 90-120 hours at a time.

What made you want to become a nurse? 

I’m from Hungary, where I started out as an agricultural engineer. I also have degrees in education and foreign marketing. The first degree brought me to the United States, and I have used my marketing degree working for companies and being a home daycare employee. I finally found my passion for nursing in 2010, when I shadowed a nursing friend of mine. Living in the U.S. and experiencing healthcare during the births of my children made me realize I could work in this environment. Getting into the accelerated program was not easy, and finishing school with two young kids was even harder. I graduated with honors from Cleveland State University in 2011.

What does it take to be a nurse?

Patients need and want nurses who are extremely competent, attentive to their needs and passionate. Some of the skills can be learned, but kindness, listening skills and compassion have to come from the heart. While I was learning to speak English, I had to pay attention to body language and other clues, which helped me to understand people better. Having a supportive husband helped me too. Today, I am able to make connections with locals and international patients, even when we don’t speak a common language. Unfortunately, I lost my husband too soon to cancer. I learned firsthand what it means to stand on the sidelines and worry about a loved one and to advocate for them.

What has changed the most since you started?

Our patient population has changed. Patients are more acute now; often we have tracheostomy patients with multiple diseases. We see more transplant surgeries, and patients are discharged sooner. We also teach our patients more now than we did years ago.

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What advice do you give young nurses?

I suggest that they visit hospitals and spend time shadowing more than one nurse. Follow your heart! Study hard. Be attentive to your patients’ needs. Take care of yourself on your days off. Sleep, exercise and surround yourself with friends and loved ones. Be humbled and treat patients as you would like to be treated.

Bedside nursing is one of the hardest and most rewarding positions, because we work with the sickest patient population at the worst time of their life. I struggled as a new nurse, and now I am so happy in my career. I feel that I give just as much to my patients as they give to me.

Rana Adzima, BSN, RN, works in the observation unit at Cleveland Clinic South Pointe Hospital. She received her associate degree in 2013 and her BSN from Kent State University in 2018. She is currently working on her master’s degree to become an adult nurse practitioner. Adzima initially went to trade school to work in the travel industry, but a patient service job at a Cleveland Clinic family health center took her on a path to nursing.

What made you want to become a nurse?

I wanted to do something I could be proud of. I was inspired by my sister, who is a nurse, and the person who hired me at Cleveland Clinic. I still had small children when I went to school, and was working part time evenings and taking classes during the day. It took a lot of self-encouragement to make that first step, but once I did, I just kept going. One class at a time. It took many years to get all the prerequisites completed and apply for the nursing program. I studied all the time and had note cards with me everywhere I went. I went from nursing school clinical experiences straight to my work (paying job), and didn’t see much of my family. It takes great commitment.

What technology do you appreciate?

Online classes are very helpful. I also appreciate being able to look at telemetry strips directly from our computer, and having our blood pressure devices directly to computers. The Kronos® timekeeping system has been updated, and we can see who is scheduled and type messages back and forth with staff. We have an admitting-discharge system which allows us to assign beds, request transport, see our admissions and discharges, etc. Many technologies have been added that are just one click away.

What has changed the most since you started?

Procedures are always changing due to new evidence (we strive for evidence-based practice), new equipment, products, etc. I would have to say it seems much busier than it used to be, especially over the past few years.

Advice for young people becoming a nurse?

Any time we have student nurses on the unit completing their clinical experiences, I try to be encouraging. I tell them to get as much experience as possible, which will only make it easier for them when they officially become a nurse. As a nurse you have a lot of choices about where you can work and the types of roles you can take on. I also encourage them to go to school right away and not wait until they’re married with children.

I really enjoy what I do. I love the feeling that taking care of people gives me, and I love making that connection with my patients. To take care of someone and put a smile on their face – to make them laugh or make them a little less scared – has made all the work it took to get here worth it.