Minimizing Errors, Maximizing Potential Through Continued Nursing Education

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Megan Shetterly, who earned her master of science degree in nursing from Wilkes University, credits the graduate degree with providing more career opportunities. In this article, Shetterly reflects on the twists and turns that led her to be where she is today—an advocate for patient safety.

Shetterly began her career as a charge nurse helping individual patients at a community hospital. Today she has expanded her reach to help other health care professionals who take care of patients all across the state of Pennsylvania and nationally.

Megan Shetterly, RN, MSFor the past six years, Shetterly, RN, MS, has worked at Pennsylvania’s Patient Safety Authority, teaching others about patient safety, working to reduce and eliminate medical errors, and saving lives in the process. The Authority was established as a result of Act 13, the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error (MCARE) Act. Before this law was passed in 2002, the quality of patient care was suffering and malpractice lawsuits were escalating to the point that doctors were leaving the Keystone State in droves.

How education aids patient safety

As senior patient safety liaison, Shetterly acts as a consultant, educator, researcher and collaborator while interacting with patient safety officers in hospitals, ambulatory surgical facilities and other health care organizations. Her role and responsibilities have changed during her tenure.

In response to facility requests for more of a “face” of the Authority and someone to assist with patient safety needs, she was hired as the first patient safety liaison (PSL). Shetterly progressed in a leadership role whereby she supervised three individuals who provided PSL coverage for about half the state. Now, she is focusing her efforts more on development and project management of educational programs as well as outreach in the field.

There is no such thing as a typical day for Shetterly. She spends most of her time out in the field, conducting outreach, educating others on patient safety risk reduction strategies, including evidence-based safety practices and investigating “near-misses,” in an effort to reduce medical and medication errors.

Additionally, she coordinates webinars and recruits speakers who are most knowledgeable about specific topics of interest. For instance, she is currently working with a speaker from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to facilitate training on safe injection practices. In June 2014, she traveled to Minnesota to speak nationally about the importance of teamwork and communication in health care.

Education is crucial to culture change

A significant part of her role is to educate on the influence that culture can play on patient safety at hospitals and other health care organizations. A punitive culture can be one of the biggest barriers that anyone has in a work environment, she explains.

“There are processes in place, for example, before a surgeon picks up a scalpel, there’s a timeout and a moment for anyone present to speak up if something seems amiss,” she says. “It’s one thing to have a process to ensure we minimize errors, but nurses also need to be able to feel empowered enough to speak up when something doesn’t seem right.”

It’s one thing to have a process to ensure we minimize errors, but nurses also need to be able to feel empowered enough to speak up when something doesn’t seem right.

Master’s degree opened up opportunities

Shetterly’s career path was not always clear cut. While working on her baccalaureate degree at Wilkes College, as it was called then, she found she enjoyed interacting with her professors and could see herself in that role. After she earned her master’s degree in nursing from Wilkes University in 1994, her first inclination was to go back and teach nursing in a classroom environment. But there were few openings in academia at the time.

Serendipitously, another door opened, and Shetterly was promoted from charge nurse to an administrative role at Berwick Hospital Center, overseeing risk management, quality and safety compliance. “When I got my master’s degree, that gave me the ability to really launch myself and opened up more career opportunities,” she says.  “I was considered a serious candidate, but my degree made me an even more serious contender.”

 When I got my master’s degree, that gave me the ability to really launch myself and opened up more career opportunities. I was considered a serious candidate, but my degree made me an even more serious contender.

Advice for pursuing a master’s in nursing

Shetterly’s advice for nurses considering a master’s degree?

“In hindsight, I would advise others to clearly investigate a career path and know what it is they really want to get out of a degree program,” she says. “I didn’t know you had to get your Ph.D. to go on in academia. Do the research before jumping in.”

Shetterly worked part-time and self-funded her college degree, adding that having the support of her family was vital to her successfully completing her master’s degree. She didn’t envision she would be doing the role she’s doing today without this educational steppingstone.

“A master’s degree can offer you so much more, and open the doors to other opportunities,” she says.

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