By Jimmy Creed
For a moment, Hannah Wood was alarmed at what she saw. As the triage tech at the Providing Access to Healthcare (PATH) Clinic at UAB Medical Towers, she was accustomed to patients presenting with rising blood pressures, climbing cholesterol levels and such, but one with a blood sugar level of 600 mg/dL grabbed her attention.
At more than three times the level that is considered very dangerous, Wood’s instincts and her training from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Nursing told her to immediately alert someone at the nurse-managed clinic to the looming problem.
One of the faculty nurse practitioners on duty that day, Michele Talley, PhD, CRNP, ACNP-BC, remembered how Wood came and said, “I have a patient in the triage area whose blood sugar is 600. What would you like for me to do?” Talley also remembered how the patient received prompt, critical care because of Wood’s proper assessment and quick action.
“She could have had the patient go back and sit in the waiting room, and when we finally got to them, their blood sugar level might have been 800,” said Talley, assistant professor and director of the School’s Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Program. “Her early recognition in situations such as those has provided better patient safety and care because she is able to recognize abnormal things quickly.”
Wood, who will graduate in April with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, is the first nursing student to hold the position of triage tech at the PATH Clinic, a partnership with UAB Hospital and UAB Health System led by the School of Nursing. As such, she is getting to practice her skills and be an important part of a care team while still learning at the School.
As the triage tech, Wood is generally the first person the patients meet when they arrive, and initially it is her responsibility to find out why they came, check their vital signs and get them acclimated to the clinic. But she is also charged with assessing each situation critically to determine if more urgent action is required as she did with the patient with the high blood sugar level.
“I really enjoy the freedom and scope of practice that I have here so that I can use my nursing judgment and my analysis skills,” Wood said. “It is really nice to have nurse practitioners and physicians who appreciate and value my input. I’m not nervous or scared to tell them something or alert them about something because that’s what they want me to do.”
Improving her critical thinking and her judgment, learning the proper way to speak with her fellow health care professionals, sharpening her nursing intuitions – those are only a few of the skills Wood is honing firsthand at the PATH Clinic.
“This job is preparing me in countless ways,” said Wood, who is from Vestavia Hills. “I feel like my knowledge is increasing through these things and more.”
Wood recalled another instance when a patient presented with a blood pressure of 220/120. Again, she instinctively began to wonder if the patient was in danger of suffering a stroke or heart attack, and she began asking questions.
She checked to see if the patient had chest pain, a headache or blurry vision. Wood asked if she usually had high blood pressure and if she regularly took blood pressure medicine. When told that she did, Wood then asked the patient when she had last taken her medication.
After alerting her colleagues, Wood was instructed to have the patient take more of the blood pressure medicine she had brought with her to the PATH Clinic visit as required. Wood then continually rechecked the women’s blood pressure every 30 minutes until her pressure stabilized.
The patient, who did not complain of any symptoms, eventually declined to be transported by ambulance to the emergency room.
“It is pretty scary knowing that they could be in very critical condition and not know it,” Wood said. “It is a challenge to think that lies in my hands, but the support the people give here and the friendliness and the acceptance that these patients have makes it easy to use my judgment and feel confident about the decisions I’m making.”
Talley and the other health care professionals at the PATH Clinic are greatly impressed with Wood and pleased with their decision to hire a nursing student for a position that had always previously been filled by a medical assistant.
“Those are two examples, but they are things Hannah does on a routine basis,” Talley said. “She recognizes the urgency or the need to notify other people. I think that speaks volumes as to her abilities and the education she has received here at the School of Nursing.”
Wood loves her work two days a week at the PATH Clinic, a collaborative effort that uses an interprofessional, team-based model to provide diabetes care at no cost to uninsured patients discharged from UAB Hospital. She loves her second job in the Emergency Department at Children’s of Alabama. She also loves her “third job” of being a full-time student in the School and all the opportunities it has provided.
She appreciates the doors that have opened to her as she has pursued her BSN and expects there will be more when she returns in the coming years to pursue her MSN and Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees.
“The School of Nursing has given me more than I can ever give back,” Wood said. “Of all the schools, I think UAB provides the most in-depth education past just being in the classroom, like being here at the PATH Clinic.
“It is really inspiring to know that not only am I growing in my nursing skills and preparing myself for the future, but I’m also making a difference in a population that really does need the help.”
Work at PATH Clinic providing "in-depth education"
First School of Nursing student to serve as triage tech Hannah Wood having a positive impact in critical assessment role