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Nikia Smith and Turkeisha Brown

From managing the day-to-day operations, ensuring patients receive the highest level of care, budgeting and staffing, our nurse managers are like business owners of their unit. And it takes a team to run a successful business.

Nikia Smith, BSN, RN, NE-BC, and Turkeisha Brown, MSN, RN, NE-BC, have both been nurse managers at the University of North Carolina for 12 years. Smith oversees a general medicine unit in 8 Bedtower, while Brown is in charge of 6 Bedtower. Traditionally, 6 Bedtower was designated for pulmonary medicine and infectious diseases but has recently served as the acute care COVID unit.

With each nurse manager running a 31-bed adult inpatient unit, both Smith and Brown have a deep appreciation for their partners. Nurse managers work with physicians and other providers to discuss ways to prevent delay of care, how to increase throughput, and create a better patient experience.

“There’s a lot of coordination to ensure the patients are getting taken care of,” Brown said. “We have a relationship with our attending physician leaders for the different service lines, as well as the medical team, and care management. This coordination creates wonderful outcomes. Our discharge times go down and patient experience scores go up.”

“Six Bedtower is a really special place and has flourished under the leadership of Keisha and her team,” Claire Farel, MD, MPH, service leader for Med K for the past nine years said. “The expertise, compassion, and patience required to navigate direct care of people with complex chronic illnesses – especially people who have struggled to access care due to poverty, stigma, or fear – is something that Keisha and her team have cultivated. It’s evident how supportive the 6BT leadership is and how care of patients on that floor represents a partnership.”

“We have witnessed our service leaders grow up as doctors as well,” Smith said. “Having a good work relationship has allowed us to improve the unit because they feel comfortable having important conversations with us. A few weeks ago, I ran into a doctor outside of the hospital and it was just so great to see them.”

“Nikia and I have been working together for about five years,” Russell Coletti, MD, MPH said. “Working with her has been great. She is very approachable, eager to help and has a lot of experience. This experience makes her very knowledgeable when it comes to patient care and processes.”

The collaboration continues across the service line level. Their Medicine, Oncology, Heart and Vascular service line is comprised of 17 units, each with nurse managers. With their experience and expertise Brown and Smith have been mentors to others in their same shoes.

“We’re making efforts, as the senior leaders of the group, to bridge the gap between the different services as well as to collaborate with the newer nurse managers to make sure they know we are here for them,” Brown said.

Creating this cohesive environment has its challenges. Smith and Brown never had plans to become nurse managers, however, stepped in to support their team and now many years later they are still doing it for that same reason.

“I started realizing that I was now taking care of people who were taking care of patients,” Smith said. “So, creating an environment where nurses felt safe to learn was really important to me.  Also, helping them get a better understanding of why we’re doing things and communicating with our staff has helped us really care for them.”

“I tend to joke about it, I say our staff has a co-dependence on one another,” Brown said. “We’re all here for the patient but I come to work every day for my staff because if I can ensure they have what they need, then they can ensure patients have what they need.”

Under Brown’s leadership, 6 Bedtower has received a gold-level Beacon Award for Excellence and two Beacon Silver Awards for Excellence from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.  The unit has also been awarded various Carolina Care awards.

As someone who is a liaison between the nursing staff, medical team and various parts of administration, Smith is continuing to coordinate efforts to improve care and troubleshoot issues in 8 Bedtower.