Team Leader

After years of dedicating her nursing career to the prevention and alleviation of pain, Melanie Simpson has been named one of five National Magnet Nurses of the Year by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, the same organization that awards magnet status on hospitals.

As coordinator of the Pain Management Resource Team at The University of Kansas Hospital, Simpson consults on all inpatient pain management issues including acute, post-operative and persistent/chronic pain syndromes. She has worked in pain management for 17 years, starting as nurse coordinator for cancer pain management and moving inpatient to begin the Pain Management Resource Team in 2001.

As part of the team, certified pain management nurses meet with patients, identify risk factors and collaborate in order to provide individualized treatment plans. Controlling pain is critical for a patient’s recovery, according to Simpson.

“Patients who are comfortable are able to cough, deep breathe, walk and sleep, which are very important in the healing process,” she says.

Melanie Simpson

Hospital leaders say nurse-led pain management programs are rare, but so are nurses like Simpson.

“Melanie is someone who has put the comfort of the patient at the top of her priority list. She is not only an advocate for successful pain management for patients but a role model for nurses on how to use skill, knowledge and passion to make a difference at the bedside and beyond,” says Tammy Peterman, chief operating officer and chief nursing officer at The University of Kansas Hospital.

Simpson says being honored is a thrill, in addition to the satisfaction she gets every day.

“It is certainly overwhelming to receive a national recognition for years of hard work,” Simpson says. “But I am rewarded every day when I see patients’ pain eased or provide a resource to a caregiver on how to make a patient more comfortable. I get to see hundreds of nurses at the hospital every day who are working to make a difference in patients’ lives. I look at awards like these as belonging to the entire nursing staff who put patient care first.”

Simpson says the hospital’s pain management program benefits from being nurse-led.

“We are able to facilitate collaboration with multidisciplinary services caring for patients — medicine, surgery, pharmacy, physical therapy, etc.,” she says. “As a consultative service, we do not take over the patient’s care, we help the other teams involved to work together to make the patients as comfortable as possible.”

Simpson founded the Coalition for Comprehensive Pain Management, in which hospital clinicians and representatives from the university and schools of medicine, nursing and health professionals convene quarterly to discuss the latest evidence-based pain management research.

“Everyone interacts with patients in pain,” Simpson says. “Unfortunately, it is not always clear whose responsibility it is to address pain. Nurses, physicians, physical therapists and other health care providers can act as an advocate for those in pain by communicating with patients and other providers about available options to control pain.”

Simpson’s award is the second major national nursing honor to come to The University of Kansas Hospital in the last year. The National League for Nursing also honored the hospital for its incentives, programs and policies that encourage the academic progression of nurses.

Peterman says Simpson is an example of the benefit of nurses obtaining advanced degrees. Simpson has bachelor’s degrees in both nursing and human relations from MidAmerica Nazarene College. She has a master’s degree in health services with a focus in community health from California College of Heath Sciences and a doctoral degree in health administration from Warren National University. She also is nationally certified in pain management, oncology, and hospice and palliative nursing.

photos: Mike Glynn for The University of Kansas Hospital