Being a nurse is a hard job on a good day. Add in an incredibly contagious virus, and what may be the simplest of everyday responsibilities while caring for patients becomes a huge challenge.
But Byran Vinson, RN—a manager at Satellite Healthcare, a nonprofit that runs dialysis centers—didn’t shy away from any obstacles the pandemic brought. Instead, he rose to the occasion by creating and running a successful COVID-19 unit at his center—and inspired the other nurses on his team to help.
“Taking care of patients and watching them thrive even in the worst circumstances is the best part of my job,” he says. “Knowing that what you do provides some light to those who oftentimes are faced with nothing but darkness is the most rewarding experience.”
Here, Vinson shares why he loves working for Satellite Healthcare, how the organization responded when the pandemic hit, and the biggest challenge he’s faced over the last few months.
Why did you pursue a career as a nurse?
I started my nursing career 28 years ago. I originally was planning to become a firefighter. When I was taking classes to help me get into the firefighting program, I inadvertently wandered into the wrong class. It happened to be an anatomy class taught by a nursing instructor. Before I realized it, I was so engrossed and found myself participating in a Q&A session! When I attempted to excuse myself, the instructor asked me to stay—and talked me into switching my field of study. As they say, the rest is history.
How did you come to specialize in dialysis?
When I graduated from nursing school, I was recruited to work in a hospital in Florida and started in the progressive care unit (PCU). Much like today, dialysis wasn’t an area that many nurses knew anything about. As a result, they had significant issues getting nurses to float to the dialysis unit when staffing issues arose. Being the new guy, I was floated to the unit no one wanted to go to. As fate would have it, it happened to be the area I enjoyed best. I found dialysis patients to be the most interesting ones I had cared for. I transferred to the dialysis unit and have been working with dialysis patients for the duration of my career.
What led to your position at Satellite Healthcare?
Six years ago, I received a cold call from a national recruiter about a job with a nonprofit dialysis company. The call was random, and I am still dumbfounded how serendipity can have life-altering outcomes. The nonprofit status was so intriguing to me I decided to listen to what the recruiter had to say. A telephone interview was scheduled, which went so well I was offered a chance to interview in person. Unbeknownst to me, it was for a facility in California. I never bothered to ask where the job was located, nor was it mentioned during the initial conversation. I accepted the interview thinking the worst that would happen is I would get a free trip to California. I have been working for Satellite Healthcare since that time.
What attracted you to work at Satellite Healthcare?
At first, the nonprofit status was the most intriguing aspect. But during the course of the interview, it became apparent that the culture of Satellite Healthcare was unlike anything I had experienced in a healthcare company. Their goals had little to do with profit margin and everything to do with providing the care all dialysis patients deserve regardless of social or financial status. That in itself was all I needed to see to convince me that Satellite Healthcare was a company I wanted to be a part of.
Shortly after I started my tenure, I realized that not only did they put the patients first, but they also did the same for their employees because they understand the value of the people who are involved in the direct care of the patients. As a result, employees of Satellite Healthcare truly have a voice. Center-level staff participate in committees that determine changes that directly affect the operations of our facilities and there is direct communication with the key decision makers. The CEO routinely drops into the centers just to say hi and engage the staff. When issues arise that have adverse outcomes for the company, the center-level staff being affected are sought out so that the issues are completely understood.
How did Satellite Healthcare respond when the coronavirus hit?
When it became apparent that COVID-19 was something that was going to have a major effect on our operations, Satellite immediately began constructing plans on how we would adapt to meet the needs of our dialysis patients affected by the virus. The mortality rate was such that there was a very real concern about exposure, which presented staffing challenges unlike any I have seen during my career. Satellite Healthcare developed a plan to allocate specific facilities that would be designated to cohort our patients affected by the virus. The original clinic chosen for this task wasn’t able to effectively put a team in place, so I was asked if I would be willing to accept the challenge. I immediately took on the responsibility and my dialysis unit became the designated COVID-19 unit.
How did you and your team rise to the occasion?
We were directly responsible for implementing the plan, rearranging our scheduling, offloading an entire shift of patients to our sister facilities, and developing dedicated teams of nurses and technicians to deliver care to our patients affected by the virus. At first, my staff was afraid and leery of volunteering to provide care to these patients. So I took it upon myself to work with our very first COVID-19 patient. I relied on my training, my knowledge, and my ability developed over years of nursing to guide me through the first treatment. I was able to put my own reservations aside because I am a nurse and this is what we do. By treating the first patient, I was able to remove the fear my staff had and set a path for my team to follow.
When the first treatment concluded, my closing nurse came to me and volunteered to be the nurse for our COVID-19 shift. By the end of that first night, the example I set was powerful enough that I had a team of volunteers. During the first few months, I provided oversight and worked on techniques to group tasks together to minimize exposure to the patients and maximize the team’s efficiency. We quickly adapted and to date none of my staff have been exposed, my patients that dialyze on other shifts have not been exposed, and we have had one patient in my unit contract the virus from a source outside our facility. My team has grown and developed, as have I as a manager. We have worked tirelessly and now caring for COVID-19 patients has become just another facet of our operation.
What is the biggest challenge you faced during the pandemic? How did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge was helping my staff overcome their fear. I understood the fear, but what I struggled with was how paralyzing it was. There were people actually walking away from their careers out of the fear that this virus presented. As an older nurse who’s been through a few pandemics, this was hard for me to understand. As a result, my initial response was to get angry that our clinical teams weren’t rising to the occasion. But through some soul searching, I did what I have been trained to do: I took care of my patient who had the virus. It was the only thing I knew to do.
That one act was the catalyst for helping my team understand that our job was not something that we could not do. Our patients’ lives depended on us to do our job regardless of circumstance. Standing up and taking care of my patients was all that I needed to do to motivate my team to go beyond their own reservations and roll up their sleeves and go to work.
What do you think it takes to succeed as a nurse at Satellite Healthcare?
The only thing that is required to be successful at Satellite Healthcare is the desire to be a part of something amazing. Along with that, having the willingness to learn and grow. Satellite Healthcare provides the structure, culture, and support to go as far and achieve as much as one desires. I am proof of that. I have done more, and experienced more growth, in the short time I have been with Satellite Healthcare than in the previous couple of decades working for the other guys!
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Never lose sight of why you became a nurse! As long as you always remember your patients are your reason, the rewards for your service will far exceed anything you can imagine. I can definitively say no truer words have ever been spoken.