An Inquiring Mind

From her earliest days, Bette Schumacher always had one question on her mind. Why?

“I always wanted to know, ‘why does that happen, why do we do it that way?’” says the clinical nurse specialist in her office at Sanford Children’s Hospital. “I drove everybody crazy with my questions, but it’s why I do what I do today.”

Schumacher’s job is to help nurses find practical answers to their problems and better ways of doing their work, utilizing evidence-based practice. By using research, she leads and collaborates with her colleagues helping figure out how everyday actions effect patient care and how they do their job.

Improving practices

“Everyday, it’s a matter of what can we do and how can we make it better,” Schumacher says.

As Schumacher walks through the halls of the children’s hospital, she points out the areas of the building where nurses helped influence the design process. For example, outside one patient room, a cabinet allows hospital staff to deliver new linens, medical supplies and take out trash without disturbing a sleeping child inside.

Sanford Hospital is the kind of place where nurses like Schumacher are allowed to help make the everyday procedures and the overall policies better, she says. They’re encouraged to care and to use science to come up with more efficient and effective ways to carry out that care.

In Schumacher’s office inside the Castle of Care, she points to a photograph of her grandmother, also named Bette, who influenced her when she was as young as the patients she cares for. During Schumacher’s childhood, she didn’t know that her beloved grandmother was a nurse before moving to the United States from Sweden. She learned about it years after she began her own career.

A freedom to ask

She just knew that her grandmother encouraged her to ask questions and use her mind to think about the answers. They spent time in the garden, determining how plants grew and experimenting in the kitchen, making subtle changes to recipes to see what would happen.

“She always encouraged me to be inventive, to think about it, to try something,” Schumacher said. “I think my storytelling and questioning nature really came from her.”

After graduating with a nursing degree from Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, Schumacher’s nursing career took her to Ann Arbor, Mich., and Los Angeles. She earned a masters degree in Michigan and worked as an educator and with pediatric patients in surgical units, including one of the country’s premier programs for cleft palate surgery.

In 2003, the small-town Iowa native was looking to return to the Midwest to be closer to family. When she came to Sanford Health for her interview, she knew from the start she had found her new home.

“They told me, ‘Bette we’re expecting you,’ as I met them in the lobby,” says Schumacher, describing her mid-winter visit to South Dakota. “It was like coming home.”

Today, walking through the hospital with one of several pairs of comfortable shoes that she keeps under her desk, Schumacher’s passion is improving nursing practice. She works with groups that include nurses, doctors and other colleagues to come up with better ways to heal. Regulatory groups identify some of her projects, while nurses themselves identify others.

Evidence-based research

One current project is helping nurses prevent diaper rash in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The commonplace problem could cause complications for the often prematurely born babies who are fighting other health problems.

Just by coordinating what they do – a regular policy using diaper wipes and ointments – the nurses have been able to prevent rash in the majority of babies. Now they’re working on what to do with those babies who suffer from rashes even with “butt paste and wipes,” she says.

“Often these are very commonsense strategies, but we have to figure out what to do and then make a plan so everyone is doing the same thing together,” she says.

Creating a culture where nurses can identify problems and find answers to those problems is a rewarding kind of job, Schumacher said. She has a passion for research and can’t wait to find another way to use that research to make patients’ and nurses’ lives and outcomes better.

“I’ve never had a boring day in my life,” says Schumacher. “When you ask questions, when you’re always learning, you’re never bored.”

Posted Date: August 2012

An Inquiring Mind

Clinical nurse specialist Bette Schumacher always wants to know more. Asking, “how can we do this better” has helped her improve the way that Sanford nurses care for young patients.