By Matt Skoufalos
Before she embarked on a 36-year career in nursing, Kathy Beydler was a teacher. Unlike many nurses, who claim a family lineage in the profession, or may have been alongside a loved one through a protracted health issue, Beydler entered the health care field simply because she decided that she wanted a change of pace.
After graduating nursing school at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, the Memphis native returned to her hometown to raise her young child, and start work at Methodist University Hospital. There she began an OR training program for nurses without any operating room experience, and became one of its first three graduates that the hospital hired into its OR unit. She credits an early mentor, Dwana Parker, with having helped ease her transition into the new assignment.
“She’d been a nurse longer than I had,” Beydler recalled. “She was very good at teaching, but tough as nails, and very patient-centered. I learned about how to take care of the patient and how to take care of family members. It’s all about empathy and recognizing how vulnerable patients and their families are.”
Maintaining an empathic, patient-centered approach to care is critical to the effectiveness of any nursing professional, and Beydler knows that firsthand, having more than once been a surgical patient throughout her time in the OR. At 30, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent surgery at the same hospital where she worked. At 34, the disease returned, and she was back in the OR. As recently as five years ago, Beydler suffered complications after a colon resection that led to four surgeries in the span of five months, two of them emergency procedures.
Those experiences demonstrated to her how anxious patients can be in a hospital, and how it felt to manage the concerns that they have when they are most vulnerable, all of which Beydler said shaped her approach both to patient care and her role in nursing leadership.
“It’s made a big impact,” she said. “I’ve been on the other end where I felt like I was a number; I’ve been on the table where people are talking over me as if I weren’t there. I see that scenario every single time in my head, without exception, when I talk to a family member [about their loved one in surgery].”
One of the most significant takeaways from her experience as a surgical patient was the work Beydler did to understand how, even with her first-hand knowledge of the surgical environment, she still walked away feeling vulnerable, almost excluded, from an intimate process involving her own body.
“People in the OR have to put up a bit of a barrier to protect themselves from what’s really happening,” she said. “What we do in the OR, if you really step back to think about it, it’s not normal. You don’t normally go in and cut somebody open, and take part of their body out, and sew them back up.”
“We’re making a positive difference when we do that, but because we do it every day, it becomes routine,” Beydler said. “Because we do those procedures one after another, we may lose sight of the fact that these are actually people who have families who care about them.
“We have the ability to impact people’s lives either positively or negatively, but we can lose sight when we’re there,” she said. “I still remember how I felt then, and that is my driving passion.”
After recovering from those surgeries, Beydler decided to broaden the focus of her career. Her experiences as the administrator of two surgical centers and the director of a level-one trauma center helped her discover how much she enjoyed managing the financial side of the business, and Beydler also returned to school to complete her master’s degree in business administration. Today, she is the managing partner at Strategic Surgical Solutions of Memphis, Tennessee, and leverages her expertise in practice consultancy to help others in the nursing field become more compassionate, thoughtful nurses.
“When I went to nursing school, I thought, ‘I’ve got a degree in education, how is this going to work?’ ” Beydler said. “But having a degree in education and a degree in nursing ties in so well together because I’ve done education at every level, and in every job that I’ve ever had.”
“Whether I’m a mentor, whether I’m a leader, whether I’m writing an article, it all comes together for me, and I’m so very thankful for that,” she said.
Beydler is fueled by a passion for practice improvement and for nursing excellence in general. Whether in coaching departments to deliver better patient care or leading surgical groups to improve their patients’ health outcomes, she applies a personal touch to leading those professionals she encounters to achieve a higher standard of excellence in their roles.
“The challenge of a leader is getting out of the way,” Beydler said. “Know your people, know your business, and know what’s important to your people. Our job is to remove the obstacles, get the staff involved and let them decide how to do it.”
When she’s not busy at work, Beydler enjoys writing, both for herself and her business, and spending time with her family. Together with her husband of 40 years, Dwain, she’s welcomed her first grandchild, whom she said is “truly my happy spot.” The same guiding principles that have supported her marriage through four decades – determination, self-examination and persistence – are the ones that have given her a professional career in health care that’s lasted nearly as long.
“Just like everything in life that’s worth having, it takes conscious effort, it takes work, and it’s never too late to learn what you’ve done wrong,” Beydler said. “Life is not going to be perfect, so you make the corrections, and you move forward.”
“As nurses, we’re hard on each other and we’re hard on ourselves,” she said. “We could give each other more grace. You never know what people are going through, and just a word of encouragement can make all the difference in the world. Being willing to listen and being vulnerable is hard, but that’s what’s important and exhibits the humanity of health care.”