Caring for a patient’s body while loving their souls earns SNICU nurse DAISY Award
Natalie Aunan tries to treat all her patients as if they’re family members.
“Looking at each patient and remembering that they’re someone’s loved one helps prioritize providing compassionate care to them. How would I want my family member to be treated in that situation?”
Aunan, BSN, RN—who’s worked in the Surgical and Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit (SNICU) for two years—addressed that question in a particularly poignant way when a patient was admitted to the SNICU with severe brain damage following an accident. The family chose to place their loved one in palliative care, where he remained until his death. For the patient’s family, Aunan was a godsend.
“She loved my dad just like he was her own,” says the patient’s daughter. “He never went without anything under her care, and she made sure he was always comfortable. Natalie cares for her patients’ broken bodies, but she loves their souls. I will forever be grateful that my dad was taken care of by the best.”
The praise of Aunan’s excellent care led to Aunan being honored with a DAISY Award.
Compassion that runs deep
Aunan says her compassionate nature stems from her own family, including her parents, three older sisters, and older brother. Growing up, her parents emphasized the importance of helping others.
“My parents raised us on the values of family and being compassionate to other people,” she says. “That was always stressed to us and it really created the person I am today.”
Aunan came to believe that nursing would be the best way to lean into those values. She earned her nursing degree and felt the SNICU at UI Hospitals & Clinics was the perfect place to launch her career.
“I was a nursing assistant there during my undergrad studies at the University of Iowa,” Aunan says. “The teamwork in the SNICU is unbeatable. We all help each other with every little task. I can trust that if I need to step off the unit for a few minutes my co-workers are giving the same level of care to my patients that I would.”
A role model for compassionate care
The family who nominated Aunan for a DAISY Award wrote in their nomination letter, Aunan’s “grace and respect for her patients breathes life into her unit.”
Those words help motivate Aunan to provide the most compassionate care possible.
“I remember that patient like it was yesterday,” she says. “I took care of him for about four days. I picked up an extra day of work just so I could see him through. I do pretty well at keeping a stable work-life balance—I realize that I’m there to provide care for them and need to have a strong face for them. But this was a tough one.”
She recalls how her coworkers offered immediate support after the patient passed away. Aunan finds comfort in her loved ones, her dog, and exercising when she can.
“I’m so grateful for everything I have. Difficult things happen and sometimes it makes you appreciate every little thing in life just a bit more,” she says.
Even though Aunan is only two years into her career, her dedication to learning more about caring for a patient’s emotional well-being shows in the kind words of her patients. She hopes to lead by example for new nurses when they’re looking to better understand the importance of compassionate care.
“Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. It doesn’t really matter what landed them here or what their previous story was. It’s a matter of looking at every single patient with a fresh set of eyes,” she says. “Providing the most holistic care really has a major impact on our patients, their families, and their outcomes.”