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Finding Her ‘True North’ in Caring Science

Linda Ackerman, RN, MSN, is one of 3 Northern California nurses who was recently recognized with the Kaiser Permanente Extraordinary Nurse Award.

“Nursing is all about love ― love of yourself, love of your team, love of your patients,” said Linda Ackerman. “If we do everything from that perspective, how can we go wrong?”

That belief has been Ackerman’s driving force for 37 years as a nurse, working first at the bedside and then as a manager and director in Maternal and Child Health. Today, as director for the Caring Science program for Kaiser Permanente Northern California Patient Care Services, she works with nurses at 21 medical centers to help them incorporate its philosophy into their practice by being authentic, kind, and present.

“Linda defines compassion,” said her colleagues. “Her leadership has empowered staff and created a collaborative work environment.”

What made you want to become a nurse?

My grandmother was a labor and delivery nurse, and I have fond memories of hearing her talk about births ― some that were moving and wonderful and others that were tragic. She was also a very giving person. She grew up during the Dust Bowl in Arizona, and she always cared for people in the community. I remember seeing her bring a meal to some people who came to her door asking for food. That kind of giving inspired me.

What do you love about nursing?

I love the ability to touch another human soul, to have relationships with people I might not otherwise know. In Labor and Delivery, we see families at their most joyful moments as well as their most vulnerable moments. I never lose sight of the fact that I am caring for another person and that this is their journey, not mine. I try to honor the choices made by patients and their families and to engage with them on their journey.

What’s the most challenging part?

The biggest challenge for nursing is staying humanistic in an increasingly busy and technology-focused environment. There are so many tasks to manage every day — so many checklists of things to do during hourly rounding and handoff at the end of each nurse’s shift ― that we need to work hard to hold on to why we are here: to provide care and compassion for our patients. That is our identity as nurses.

What was one of your most memorable moments as a nurse?

Some of my most bittersweet moments have been helping patients and families cope with the loss of an infant. They won’t have the chance to see their child grow up, so I want to make sure they have a special time to bond and then release. I remember one mom who was devastated after the loss of her child, and she wasn’t ready to release the baby. We gave her all the time she needed. She bathed and dressed the baby, wrapped it in a blanket, and her family came to visit. We weren’t providing nursing care — we were providing human care.

Describe a professional achievement you’re proud of.

I was part of the team that opened Kaiser Permanente’s Antioch Hospital in 2007, and it was a highlight of my career. We wanted it to be a hospital for our community, a place where patients and families were always at the center. We worked closely with Dr. Jean Watson, who developed Caring Science, and everything we did reflected that philosophy ― all our policies and programs, even the questions we asked during employee interviews. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done, but it was very fulfilling. And based on our great outcomes, Caring Science was adopted as a foundation for professional practice throughout Northern California in 2010.

If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would you say?

I’d tell myself to be open to possibilities, to the wonderful caring feelings that you are going to have, and to embrace them. I’ve learned from every single patient, friend, and family member I’ve encountered. They’ve all molded me into the person I am as a nurse.

What advice do you have for nurses who are new to Kaiser Permanente?

Stay true to yourself and the ideals that made you want to become a nurse. Follow your “true north.”

Find additional stories of Kaiser Permanente Extraordinary Nurse Award winners and much more at the Kaiser Permanente Nursing Pathways Nurses Week website.


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