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Sister ensures excellence as nurse

Nurses Week May 6-12 honors healers

CEDAR RAPIDS — Hands-on, compas­sionate nursing care — from checking blood pressures and establishing best practices to comforting the dying — is a core mission of the Sisters of Mercy.

The Sisters of Mercy have been nurses since their founder Catherine McAuley identified caring for the sick as a major focus of the new community in Dublin, Ireland, in 1831. The only trained nurses in the American Civil War were women religious, 100 of them Sisters of Mercy. Mercy sisters served in the Spanish American War. They still serve to heal the sick.

They built hospitals across the U.S. beginning in 1847 with the founding of the first Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and eventually totaling 85. The Sisters have served in every capacity from bedside nurses and doctors to CEOs, CFOs and trustees in hospitals and health systems as well as in public health and community-based settings.

Ensuring clinical excellence in critical care nursing has been the passion of Sister Maurita Soukup, who began her nursing career in 1964 at Mercy Hospital, now Medical Center, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Since then her life’s ministry has been dedicated to clinical excellence for the critically ill patient, family and the multidisciplinary colleagues engaged in their care. As a bedside critical care nurse and then a clinical nurse specialist in cardiovascular nursing, she says Catherine McAuley’s gift of “careful nursing” which involves competence, care and compassionate presence, has guided her throughout her 52 years of nursing.

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In addition to years at the bedside, some of her accomplishments include: co-developer of the cardiac surgical program for the community of Cedar Rapids; founding director of the Center for Advanced Nursing Practice at Bryan LGH Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska; founding director of the Eastern Iowa Heart Institute at St. Luke’s Hospital, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and vice president of The Iowa Heart Hospital, Mercy Medical Center, Des Moines. In addition to having her research published, she served as co-editor for the first Methods in Critical Care: The AACN Manual in the late 1980s. She also served as co-editor for Nursing Clinics Of North America June 2000 for a series of articles based on the “The Center for Advanced Nursing Practice Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) Model ©”

She currently serves as a trustee for several Mercy Medical Centers located in Sioux City, Mason City, New Hampton, Cedar Rapids; and the Regional Iowa Trinity Health Board; Mercy College of Health Sciences in Des Moines; and as a nurse consultant and researcher. With more than 50 years of nursing experience, Sister Maurita took time to reflect on her calling as a Sister of Mercy and her critical care nursing ministry. Below is an interview with Sister Maurita:

What is critical care nursing practice? How did you become interested in it and in nursing as a profession?

“Critical Care nursing is a specialty field of nursing, with “ICU” and “CCU” being sub-fields. Critical Care nurses use their advanced knowledge, skills and critical thinking to care for persons and their families who are seriously ill and/or at high-risk for life-threatening health problems.

Hospitals created critical care units in the late ‘50s. Today this nursing and medical specialty has expanded beyond a ‘unit’ to a ‘way of caring’ for seriously ill or high-risk persons wherever they may be … to optimize patient outcomes by ensuring continuity of care in various settings.

As a new nurse graduate, I felt called to this area of clinical practice specialization. I continue to value the expertise of multidisciplinary colleagues who have and continue to contribute to this field of practice in how to best care for these patients and their families in ways never thought possible. Examples include advances in technology, new surgical discoveries, phar­macology and always humanizing interventions that honor “patient choice.”

How has your nursing ministry unfolded over the years?

I entered religious life as a nurse. My passion for nursing intensified as a sacred ministry. The Sisters of Mercy who take a fourth vow of service called me to a deeper commitment …

In reflecting on these years of ministry, I would say that my commitment has deepened to engage nurses in the “Scholarship of Practice,” clinical practice, and share their stories. As a nurse and Sister of Mercy, I tribute Catherine McAuley’s gift of “careful nursing” — specifically competence, care and compassionate presence in guiding my practice. Scholarship is often associated with academia; however, the “Scholarship of Practice” is rich with research-driven data regarding the patient, family and caregiver experiences. Critical thinking calls us to “careful analyses” for determining “best practice,” since findings can be statistically significant without clinical relevance or clinically relevant without reaching statistical significance. My ministry has expanded from the bedside to board tables, still listening carefully to patient/family and caregiver stories while interpreting findings, with “patients and their families being our first priority.”

What about this profession has been most rewarding for you?

My passion for critical care nursing and nursing as a profession of nursing is filled with energy and gratitude for the “gift of care” extended to our patients and their families by so many wonderful colleagues.   Healthcare is a sacred ministry, filled with innovative, multifaceted opportunities that empower many.

I know you have contributed to books on nursing. What were some of those contributions and how did you come by the opportunity to do so?

As a young nurse, publication was not on my radar screen; I just wanted to be a competent, caring bedside nurse/sister. Physicians with whom I was working instilled in me an appreciation for research-driven practice. As a cardiovascular clinical nurse specialist, my research thesis on “Nitroglycerin Tablet Potency Found in Client Carriage Containers” contributed to improved tablet stabilization and proper storage warning labels. Within a short period of time, a small group of colleagues and I began writing off duty and critiquing one another’s works. Invitations soon evolved for practice-directed contributions, either as a contributing author or as co-author.

Two examples have made significant contributions to nursing practice.

  • In the early ‘80s, I was invited by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses to serve as co-editor for the first Methods in Critical Care: The AACN Manual. This resource was desperately needed for bedside nurses and to standardize critical care nursing care across settings. Four of us initiated and completed the book within 15 months and offered a first contributing author experiences to many clinicians across the United States. Interestingly, the book was so well received globally that it was translated into several languages, with the first being Latin within two years.
  • Another contribution occurred in June of 2000, when I was invited to be a guest editor for Nursing Clinics of North America, where “The Center for Advanced Nursing Practice Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) Model ©” was introduced. I worked with other co-authors to develop a series of articles based on the model, and all 12 were accepted for this publication. The EBP Model © with refinements was instrumental in engaging multidisciplinary colleagues from academia, practice and leadership in research-driven practice initiatives and disseminating findings through an afternoon dedicated to “Evidence-Based Practice: A Program Series”; (published). In 2009, the EBP Model© was advanced by Catholic Health Initiatives for use system-wide.

Would you recommend nursing to a young person today and why?

Definitely! Nursing, an art and science, is truly a rewarding and sacred profession. I have witnessed young adults, the multicultural underserved and second career adults be highly successful as caregivers, educators, advanced practice nurses, researchers, informatics specialists, etc.

What qualities does a person have to be a good nurse and to consider nursing as a career?

There are many; however, I would offer these: inner wisdom, competence, caring, compassionate presence, commitment to life-long learning and gratitude.

What else would you say about your life in nursing that might inspire others?

My passion for nursing empowered a life ministry in “care of the critically ill” through clinical excellence, servant leadership and prayer. Catherine McAuley’s charisma of “careful nursing” and vision for unmet needs of “God’s dear poor” still guides and inspires my ministry. I am prayerfully filled with gratitude and joy for these wondrous Mercy years. Blessings and gratitude to every single nurse as we celebrate Nurses Week!


Sister Maurita Soukup (left), a Mercy sister who serves as a nurse, and Mary Kay Stee, RN, share a moment. The Mercy Sisters founded numerous medical facilities, including Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids. (Contributed photo)