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Carle Foundation Hospital nurse honored for innovation with national award

Carle Foundation Hospital nurse honored for innovation with national award
Christine Wetzel, DNP, is carrying on the legacy of her grandmother, who graduated from nursing school in 1926.  Her grandmother Marie was also a staff nurse and nursing instructor. 

“I remember how she looked – immaculate in her white dress and stockings. I would watch her get ready for her shift and secure her hat with so many bobby pins. Grandma left an impression in my heart and soul that lives on through my work today,” Wetzel wrote for her acceptance speech. She delivered those words of honor on stage this month in Atlanta as she received the prestigious 2021 National Magnet Nurse of the Year® Award.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) annually recognizes the outstanding contributions of clinical nurses in each of five Magnet® Model components. A practicing nurse for 28 years who also teaches two clinical courses in obstetrics at the University of Illinois, Wetzel received the honor in the category of New Knowledge, Innovations and Improvements. As an advanced expert in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), she developed a tool called eNEC, a risk-awareness instrument for necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a potentially deadly abdominal infection that can affect preterm babies.

Her research, which focused on preterm babies, human milk lactation, feeding intolerance and NEC, began when she was a new NICU nurse who started figuring out how to help mother’s with their breast milk. She discovered how that milk could help improve the baby’s microbiome (naturally occurring microorganisms inside the body). Her evidence-based approach created a feeding tolerance tool nurses now use across the country to determine a premature baby’s risk for NEC. It is the first used by any NICU clinician.

The tool was “a long evolution” and was developed by applying scientific literature to discover individual risk factors for babies admitted to the NICU.  The tool increases the nurses knowledge of which babies may be at risk to develop NEC and feeding intolerance. This provides each baby with individual care. Carle Foundation Hospital NICU has one of the lowest NEC rates in the Vermont Oxford Quality Database, a collaborative of more than 1,000 hospitals focused on improving neonatal care.

Wetzel is also a lactation specialist and recently introduced the eMOM (Evaluation of Mother’s Own Milk) guide to help mothers and nurses assess breast milk production during the first month of a preterm infant’s life.
“The rocket fuel of the NICU is the mother’s breast milk,” she said. Mothers of NICU babies cannot nurse because the baby is so small, but they can produce breast milk to nourish the baby and that is empowering, she said. Her hope is to put the evaluation tool into the hands of parents, perhaps one day in the form of an app for easy monitoring.

The Clinical Recognition Council at Carle nominated Wetzel for the honor. Jaymie Green, director, Clinical Excellence Program at Carle Health, said, “We are incredibly proud of Chris’s work. Chris represents the inquisitive mind of nurses and when an organization supports that deeper dive into literature and research it can significantly impact the health and wellness of patients. “

“Many times the impact on patients is very direct and face to face for nurses. Chris does that, but she also facilitated care of infants she has and will never meet. She has undoubtedly been responsible for saving the lives of babies in central Illinois and across the world. This is what the Magnet Nurse of the Year Award is all about - the greater impact nurses have on the patients we love,” Green said.

Wetzel, a Gilman native and Champaign resident, has spent her entire career at Carle. She credits the hospital’s NICU for creating the eNEC tool, which she shares regularly when attending and presenting at various conferences.

At the award ceremony, she gave an acceptance speech as an image of her grandmother in her nursing uniform came up on a huge stage screen. Her grandmother was thrilled when she became a nurse, Wetzel said. Now her daughter, Abby, is a health care tech, also at Carle, on the postpartum floor.

“I believe nursing is an art passed from one nurse to another. I especially love to tell people I have my doctoral degree, yet have chosen to stay at the bedside. I have thrived in Carle’s Magnet environment, Innovation is my motto. Research is my strength, and evidence-based practice is the backbone to all of my work,” she said.

Categories: Culture of Quality, Redefining Healthcare, Community

Tags: Magnet, NICU, nurse, research