It’s no surprise that Lisa Thomas was recognized in 2013 as a Good Samaritan Foundation Excellence in Nursing Bronze Medalist, an award program created to recognize “nursing’s best and brightest.” An advanced practice nurse and clinical nurse specialist in adult health, she brings energy, expertise and enthusiasm to her role as director of clinical education for TIRR Memorial Hermann and the hospital’s growing citywide rehabilitation network.
“With our strong emphasis on standards of practice and quality improvement at TIRR Memorial Hermann, we’re working in a rapidly changing environment,” says Thomas, who oversees four educators, library services and education resources. “With every change, whether it’s a new policy, a new process or a new product, there’s an educational component we have to address with nurses, therapists and residents. Because the hospital is constantly expanding the boundaries of rehabilitation with new knowledge and new techniques, we stay busy as educators.”
Thomas grew up with a scientific bent. “I’ve always enjoyed the sciences in general, and I considered different disciplines before deciding to become a nurse,” she says. She had a strong role model in her grandmother, a diploma-trained nurse with the Memorial Sisters of Charity who retired after 50 years of service, the last 20 of which she spent at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center as an oncology nurse.
Thomas’s first exposure to rehabilitation came when she was in high school in Alvin, Texas. “My grandfather had a stroke and moved into my parents’ home, where he lived for the next 20 years,” she says. “His presence raised my awareness of caregiver challenges and care coordination issues. I was impressed by how much improvement his early rehab stay made in his recovery.”
After graduating from high school, Thomas received a full scholarship to the University of Houston pre-pharmacy program. When she made the decision to become a nurse, she transferred to The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, completing her bachelor’s in nursing in 1994. She was employed by hospitals in Houston, Vero Beach, Florida, and Dallas, before accepting a position as a weekend staff nurse at TIRR Memorial Hermann in 2003. She was soon promoted to the newly created position of weekend night operations administrator, a role that provided her a first glimpse of the big picture and raised her awareness of the need for process improvements. In her new position, she began staff education and auditing of results, as well as patient and family education.
In 2005, while working at the rehabilitation hospital, she was accepted into the Master of Science Clinical Nurse Specialist-Adult Health program at Texas Woman’s University (TWU). She graduated, was certified as a clinical nurse specialist and applied for licensure through the state as an advanced practice nurse in 2009. She completed final coursework for her post-master’s certification in nursing education that same year.
She was still a weekend operations administrator when she brought a clinical group from TWU to TIRR Memorial Hermann, serving as adjunct faculty for them. When she transitioned to a fulltime education role, she helped train her adjunct replacement. The hospital continues to host students from TWU.
Actively engaged in research, Thomas is currently working on a collaborative project to examine the experience of amputees who see themselves in the mirror for the first time following their amputation. “This is a powerful patient experience that crosses multiple disciplines, including physical therapy, occupational therapy and nursing,” she says. “Our research partner at TWU has examined the experience of women after mastectomy in ways that help them recover and form a new view of themselves. We’re very interested in investigating how these findings might apply to patients who have undergone upper- or lower-extremity amputation.”
The first in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree, Thomas is currently enrolled in the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) with an expected graduation date of May 2015. Designed for nursing executives, the program encourages a broader, more holistic view of nursing practice that includes leadership style, administrative practices, navigation of the health care system and proper placement of patients across the continuum of care.
The program aligns well with her professional interests. “It’s about getting the right care to the right people at the right time,” she says. “That’s a major focus across the Memorial Hermann Health System, and at TIRR Memorial Hermann, we’re interested in sharing what we’ve learned with other rehabilitation providers. As educators, we have a unique opportunity to drive change that impacts both individual patients and whole populations.”
In addition to providing clinical education to hospital and system staff members, Thomas makes quality improvement presentations at state and national conferences. She also works with nurses from four different schools who complete rotations at TIRR Memorial Hermann – students at TWU, Houston Baptist University, Houston Community College and San Jacinto Community College.;
“I like having the opportunity to give new nurses a broader view of our profession that extends to other disciplines," she says. "I also find a lot of satisfaction in helping to improve quality across the entire continuum of care. We don’t stop measuring outcomes when patients leave the hospital. It’s important to help each patient meet his or her individual goals for return to function or adaptation to disability and improved quality of life.”