EXTRAordinary Women 2023
As helping others is a core component of her genetic code, Kari Irwin can think of no other career she would rather be a part of than nursing. Over the past 16 years, working as a registered nurse (RN), Kari has cared for countless patients; often during their most vulnerable moments. “I’ve shared a wide spectrum of emotions with my patients – from pure joy and happiness to the inconceivable – I have the privilege of sharing intimate moments of time with another human and their family.”
Proudly working bedside for most of her career thus far, Kari sought to broaden her impact of care by combining her natural leadership skills with her unmet desire to care for another population – nurses. After graduating summa cum laude from Sacred Heart University earning her master’s degree in Nursing Management and Executive Leadership, Kari accepted her current role at Boston’s internationally renowned Brigham and Women’s Hospital as the Nurse Director for the Procedural Recovery Unit (PRU). Through utilization of her vast bedside knowledge, exceptional leadership style, and a genuine desire to support her fellow essential working nurse, Kari has created a space for her diverse team to perform at the highest level of their practice. “Caring for those who care for patients has become my true north.”
The Covid-19 pandemic impacted everyone and everything, but the pandemic has been particularly challenging on healthcare providers and patients seeking care. Immediately after the COVID-19 outbreak as hospitals across the commonwealth began seeing an insurgence of patients, Kari and her staff of PRU nurses bravely gowned in their personal protective equipment and deployed onto COVID units. Working alongside her staff for several years into the pandemic, Kari witnessed first-hand the psychological toll it has taken on her nursing staff and the overarching negative effect the national staffing and supply shortages had on patient access to care. Kari knew she needed to reassess the way she cared for others, and thus created an innovative way to improve access of care beyond just her singular nursing unit.
Upon seeing an opportunity to help alleviate some of the hospital’s ongoing capacity challenges while ensuring patients receive excellent care, Kari and her multidisciplinary team worked diligently to open additional overnight beds in the PRU for patients expected to stay less than 23 hours. Since launching in August of 2022, this program has cared for hundreds of additional patients overnight who otherwise would have been placed in an inpatient bed, further compounding capacity issues. By caring for patients in the PRU, those inpatient beds became available for patients requiring longer, more extensive care. Kari and her team changed the culture of the patient care experience by putting a conditional nurse-driven discharge program in place that allows patients to leave as early as 6 a.m. The novel program proved to be such a success at Brigham and Women’s Hospital that Kari was asked to present her findings to the Mass General Brigham Enterprise, a large network of hospitals throughout the Commonwealth, to potentially expand the program’s success to other areas of healthcare.
Kari Irwin can be described as a compassionate leader with a plethora of experience in change management. “Change is hard, but it doesn’t have to be any harder than it needs to be. The most complex of questions can almost always be answered by those who do the bedside work every day.” As a Nurse Director managing Boston’s essential working nurses, Kari uses the same compassionate level of care supporting and directing her multidisciplinary team as she would caring for her patients. Through expression of her endless empathy and warmth, Kari continues to successfully lead her team of PRU nurses, navigating through ever-evolving post pandemic healthcare challenges.
Originally growing up in Northern Arizona, Kari eventually made her way East to settle in Boston where she quickly fell in love with the culture and community. “I realized Boston is a community that embraces diversity and has a lens for inclusion, and that’s important for me as a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community.”