Beyond the Bedside

Nurses Find Fulfillment in Surprising Places


NorthBay Healthcare nurses who have found non-traditional, career-fulfilling opportunities include, left to right, Sandy Stockey, R.N., Mary Dickey, R.N., Ed Ballerini, R.N., and Becky Lessler, R.N.

You would expect to find most nurses at the bedside of patients, but at NorthBay Healthcare, they turn up in some surprising places. From internet technology and education to licensing and accreditation, these R.N.s have found new ways to put their nursing know-how to work. Their love affair with patients has not diminished as the job has morphed into new and exciting areas where they’ve learned they can have an even larger impact.

Neonatal Expert to Accreditation Detective

Mary Dickey, R.N., knew at a young age she wanted to be a nurse. She earned her bachelor’s degree in New Hampshire and worked in rehab hospitals before joining the Air Force.

While stationed at Travis, she had her first experience with neonatal nursing, and became something of an expert. When she joined NorthBay in the 1980s, she helped design the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

She eventually oversaw the Women’s and Children’s Services Unit for 23 years, until she decided to take on a new and exciting challenge, as director of accreditation and licensure. “I saw an opportunity to make a difference in a different way,” she explains. “Instead of affecting a patient in a single unit, now I’m making a difference on a global scale.”

Her job involves maintaining current knowledge of all state, federal and Joint Commission standards and regulation that dictate how hospitals should operate.

To that end, she sets up processes and observational studies on a regular basis to monitor how NorthBay is doing. And when standards change, as they sometimes do, she’s ready to train employees so they’ll be up to speed.

And if anything is amiss, she’s on it. “I do miss working one-on-one with patients, but I love the challenge of figuring out problems,” she says. “It’s like being a detective. What could we have done differently? What can we do to make sure we’re meeting all the standards, every time?”

Big Interactions Then, Big Picture Now

Since his father was a nurse, it only made sense to Ed Ballerini, R.N., at age 17, to follow in his footsteps. “I felt like I had the right traits to be a good nurse. I’m very caring, open, honest and trustworthy,” he says earnestly. “It feels like I was born to be a nurse.”

He originally planned to go into his father’s field as a nurse anesthetist, but realized emergency medicine was a better fit. “I worked a couple of years as an emergency medical technician, and I realized I touched more people’s lives than if I was in surgery taking care of people who were asleep,” he says.

He came to NorthBay Healthcare—then Intercommunity Hospital—in 1985 and eventually managed Emergency Departments at both NorthBay Medical Center and NorthBay VacaValley Hospital and Fairfield’s Intensive Care Unit before making a big switch in 2007.

He left the bedside behind to take a role in clinical infomatics. Today his title is chief clinical infomatics officer and senior director, and he’s responsible for how NorthBay uses technology in the clinical setting. “It’s incorporating the science of nursing with technology and computers,” he explains. “I deal with the technology advances that are continually coming out in the industry, select the right tools for our institution, and make sure we have the right processes in place to make them work.”

Does he miss nursing at the bedside? Sometimes, he admits, but his new position gives him a new perspective. “Every day I do things that impact the care that is provided to the patient,” he says. “The impact I have now is not just in the ICU or in the Emergency Department, it’s across the entire system.”

From Babies to Megabytes

Sandy Stockey, R.N. and senior systems analyst, still has nightmares about dropping a baby, she chuckles. And she hasn’t worked in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for 14 years. But her days of working in pediatrics and later in the NICU are still vivid for the nurse-turned-analyst who now juggles electronic files and apps instead.

When she decided to go back to school, she wanted to focus on something new. So she earned a bachelor’s in business/information systems from University of Phoenix, and was pleased to land a job in NorthBay Healthcare’s Information Technology Department. At the time, she was the only nurse on the team, and offered quality input. “I knew what the nurses needed to communicate and quickly, so I was able to make solid suggestions,” she remembers.

Soon, another nurse was added to the team. “We used our expertise as nurses to know what needed to be communicated and how to set up the documentation,” she says.

Though she admits she misses the babies at times, she loves her new role. “It’s a very different perspective, but it’s still caring for the patients,” she says.

Nurse, Mom, Manager, Teacher

Becky Lessler, R.N., cut her teeth on critical care in Bay Area hospitals for eight years, and another five years at NorthBay before she decided to make a switch to education and training.

Working side by side with clinicians through the years, she realized that training is the answer to performance issues about 30 percent of the time.

“This prompted me to go back to school for a master’s in Human Resources, to learn about the other 70 percent: What motivates people, how systems affect performance, the role of conflict, the management of risk,” she explains.

Just as she finished, an HR director position opened. In her current role, she is responsible for staff development and performance support.”A lot of my time is spent on delivering training, supporting the subject matter experts who train and coach,” she says. “It is a very special time for me to be in the classroom, working with staff, because I get back to the joy of seeing eyes light up.”

She is grateful that NorthBay has allowed varied paths to providing service: At the bedside, direct training, managing training, overseeing HR processes—in all kinds of formats—part time, part time flex, full-time, so she could be nurse, mom, manager and teacher.

“I am thankful for years of bedside care that taught me the point-of-touch is the heart of the business. So I never forget what our mission really is: serving the patient with compassionate care, advanced medicine, close to home.”

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