By Matt Skoufalos
Marisa Streelman had considered a career in medicine long before a health careers program at her Flint, Michigan high school offered her the opportunity to preview a handful of hospital jobs prior to college. Although Streelman initially had planned to become a physician, after having been exposed to the work of nursing teams at the hospital, she noticed how much more patient interaction nurses experienced than physicians did — and that was the work with which she felt most connected. It was then that Streelman realized she’d be better off studying nursing.
“My calling was really around helping the patients, so I flipped my mind around,” Streelman said.
After completing her BSN at Eastern Michigan, Streelman began her nursing career at an oncology unit at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in downtown Chicago, Illinois. From delivering palliative care and symptom management, she learned a lot about what patients experience when the internal functions of their bodies are disrupted by cancer. She continued to work as a charge nurse for several years until she began feeling an itch to do something else.
“I’m a person who looks for challenges and opportunities,” Streelman said. “I had a great mentor, and she said, ‘Why don’t you look at management?’ I ended up loving it, and I stayed in nursing leadership for about 13 years.”
Streelman spent three of those 13 years at Northwestern Memorial before moving on to a cardiac step-down unit at University of Colorado Hospital for two years. Afterward, she headed back to Chicago to manage a general medicine unit at Rush University Medical Center for seven years. During that time, Streelman followed up the master’s degree in nursing administration she’d earned from the University of Illinois Chicago with a doctorate of nursing practice from Rush University, which covered the costs of her advanced schooling while she worked at the university hospital. Her advanced educational goals streamlined nicely with Streelman’s wholehearted embrace of nursing leadership; she especially enjoyed mentoring new nurses as they sought out the career paths that best fit their temperament and lifestyle choices.
“I think of nursing like a tree with branches,” Streelman said. “You have all these aspects of care – virtual nursing, triage, ICU, critical care, CRNA – and there’s all these different avenues to look at. In a formal leadership role, helping new nurses understand where their paths would lead, I loved bringing new nurses in, orienting them, and watching their careers grow and progress.”
After her time in Chicago, Streelman returned home to Michigan, where she now works as a staff specialist at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor. Streelman described her role there as an informal leadership role in the surgical subsegment that merges project management duties with those of nursing inpatient units, where she works to limit the impact of hospital-acquired conditions like pressure injuries and central line infections as well as falls.
During the last few years, Streelman helped specialized nursing units transform into facilities capable of supporting novel coronavirus (COVID-19) patients, and then flipping those units back to their normal applications throughout four waves of COVID-19 infections. As Streelman has progressed through these duties – which included supporting a 50-bed regional infection containment unit for overflow patients during the peak infection waves of the pandemic – she relied on her knowledge of nursing leadership roles to help facilitate the effective management of those units.
“The COVID crisis has put a lot of emphasis on the nursing world,” Streelman said. “Some of the issues were there before, but a lot of them have come to light, and been visualized much more broadly during the pandemic.”
“I think about the nursing units; what they’re going through with trying to get enough staff to work,” she said. “We’re all struggling. How can we help each other? Leaders can’t work alone. You have to work with others. It’s too hard to try to do it by yourself; it’s not as easy to ask for help.”
Streelman’s perspective on nursing leadership is informed by more than a decade of participation in the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN), beginning with her establishment of an AMSN chapter in Chicago, her participation in the scholarship and awards committee for AMSN, and her eventual service on the national board of the organization, first as treasurer and director, and eventually as its president-elect in 2022.
“It’s been wonderful,” Streelman said. “The relationships and support that AMSN and staff have given me have been fantastic. I’ve formed lifelong friendships, as well as this feeling of supporting the medical/surgical nurse and advocating for them. You get that satisfaction of looking and thinking about nursing differently than you do from your daily work. It’s inspiring to see everyone coming together and wanting to do great work.”
During the pandemic, Streelman carried those perspectives with her in supporting nursing leaders at the University of Michigan. Speaking as a nursing leader, she gave voice to her own struggles during the pandemic, which empowered other nurses in different specialties to do the same. Sharing the emotional burden of that vulnerability encouraged her peers to do so as well, and Streelman said her team rallied around her in the effort.
“When you come into these situations that are all-encompassing, don’t be afraid to reach out,” Streelman said. “Leaders need wellness as much as their staff. I find in my leadership life that when I am more vulnerable with my staff, I feel more supportive. It’s letting people know that it’s OK to not be OK, and you’ve got to work with others.”
“Oftentimes, units work so much in silos that you need to come together and understand you’re not the only ones going through this,” she said. “Make sure you talk to your coworkers, your peers. Your team will rally around you.”
“It’s OK for people to know that this is impacting all of us,” Streelman said; “to know that, as the leader, I am not less affected or stronger than anyone else. We are in this together, and we need each other. No one is alone.”
Professional Spotlight Nomination