As the oldest of four children, being raised by a single mom, things were tight to say the least. I vowed to myself then that I would have a career where I was able to help others, and raise a family at the same time. A native Delawarean, who attended both St. Marks and Newark High Schools, I became active in the volunteer fire service. I continued that work for nearly 16 years, before moving out of my local response area. One year out of high school I knew there was something more I wanted to do – so I applied to nursing school and obtained first my associates degree, then bachelors (cum laude), then masters of nursing (suma cum laude). During this time I was working at the bedside in the surgical ICU at Christiana Care, taking care of the most critical patients, in one of the most intense practice settings. This is where I met Dr. McNicholas.
While at Christiana Care I gained knowledge and experience in practice standards, acute care delivery, patient advocacy and quality improvement. After 8 years in critical care I moved to the Christiana Emergency Department, where I continue to still practice today. Here, I am at the front line. I’ve been blessed with experiences I couldn’t obtain elsewhere, and have guided patients and families through complicated medical and traumatic events. During my nursing career I have served as a forensic nurse, a critical care transport nurse, and nurse educator. I have educated staff on Advanced Adult and Pediatric Life Support standards, quality delivery, legal/ethical issues and patient centered care. My over 31 years at the bedside has given me the experience needed to quickly assess and determine safe patient care practices.
While serving as a bedside nurse, I was intrigued by the legal aspect of health care delivery, so I decided to apply to law school. After graduating and passing the Bar Exam, I began work with a Philadelphia based medical malpractice firm where I was able to work on complex medical litigation. This experience gave me the background and knowledge needed to successfully advocate for my clients to resolution. While practicing law, I was recruited back to work in Delaware and asked to run for public office. I served two terms in the Delaware General Assembly House of Representatives, where I was appointed the chair of the House Judiciary Committee and vice-chair of the Health & Social Services Committee. During this time my path with Dr. McNicholas crossed again. She and I partnered with multiple legal and medical professionals to introduce DMOST to Delaware. This law allowed for families and patients to determine what life sustaining or prolonged treatment would be administered near the end of life. Delaware’s determination of care and patient rights have been strengthened by our efforts and the passage of this critically needed legislation. After my second term in office I decided to not run for re-election and returning to the private sector in academia. During these years I was also pursuing my PhD in nursing and health delivery research at the Medical University of South Carolina. With a then 8% acceptance rate into the program, these studies were rigorous and intense; and I was proud to successfully defend my dissertation and complete the program with honors.
In 2015 I was requested by the then Secretary of the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security to serve as the Chief Operating Officer at the Division of Forensic Sciences. Having a passion for quality services and healthy outcomes, I am a Past President of the Delaware Board of Nursing, and have provided numerous lectures on nursing and the law, ethics, quality care and patient advocacy. Currently, I also serve on the State Child Death Review Commission and Chair the Delaware Overdose Death Review Commission; and am the Forensic Sciences point of contact for two long term CDC grant projects.
All of this has led me here – to do what’s right for those I’ve served, and guide patients and families through complicated, difficult decisions. Having had the opportunity to work with professional at all levels in both the medical and legal communities – I’ve seen the bad, witnessed what the good can do, and have a deep passion for providing the right services to the right client at the right time. I am a strong advocate for patient rights, am passionate about client awareness through knowledge, and have a professional drive to help families navigate a complex medical system.
I was born and spent early years in Philadelphia. Mother (nurse) and father (physician) met during and married at end of WW2. They posed for wedding portrait in Army- Airforce uniforms.
I was second of 5 children (four girls and one boy) later raised in Blue Bell, Pa.
I attended Mt St Joseph Academy, graduated with honors from Chestnut Hill College then attended Jefferson Medical College graduating magna cum laude. I served as resident and chief resident at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York in General and Cardiothoracic surgery. During residency I was surgical house officer and after completing residency was Senior Registrar at the Hospital for Sick Children Great Ormond Street in London, England.
I returned to States and became attending Surgeon then Chief of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery at Deborah Heart and Lung Center in New Jersey and was asked by the Chief Dr Gerald Lemole to join him in developing the first heart program at the Medical Center of Delaware (now Christiana Care). Became Associate Director of Cardiac Surgery and Medical Director of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery, where I first met Dr. Rebecca Walker – when she was a bedside nurse. Was honored to be a member of an outstanding team who provided care to our friends and neighbors and many from surrounding states and nations under the remarkable direction of Dr Lemole. “Cardiac Surgery and patient care was what I did and what I was.”
In the third decade at Christiana I realized I had no hobby but had good health and some “free time”. I had developed an interest in the Law and decided to pursue a legal education at near- by Widener University Delaware Law School. I completed my JD (cum laude) and LLM in Health law (with honors).
I no longer had free time, had acquired a great “hobby” and developed health issues which lead to retiring from active clinical practice.
I was offered a position as Medical Director of Performance Improvement subsequent to Retirement #1. To feel more equipped in this leadership position I completed a yearlong Patient Safety Leadership Fellowship through AHA and NPSF and later gained certification through HCH and CCEP as well a certification in Lean 6 sigma.
As Medical Director of Performance Improvement at Christiana I led many important improvement efforts including post harm-event debriefs and lead the CANDOR project with AHRQ. I lead multiple improvement projects and was honored to work with all professionals and support staff at Christiana. During this time my path with Dr. Walker crossed again, and she and I partnered with multiple legal and medical professionals to introduce DMOST to Delaware. This law allowed for families and patients to determine what life sustaining or prolonged treatment would be administered near the end of life. Delaware’s determination of care and patient rights have been strengthened by our efforts and the passage of this critically needed legislation
This challenging and rewarding experience in Quality and Safety ended with a significant health crisis which necessitated extensive evaluation and treatment but eventual stabilization.
Years of experience as a physician and surgeon leader privileged to care for generations of patients and families as well as experience as a patient led to the realization of the need for PATIENT ADVOCACY. This is my current vocation building on my desire to continue to help patients.