As a nurse for more than 35 years, Julie Mirkin ’80 has been part of every National Nurses Week since the American Nurses Association established it in 1993, but this one is a bit different.
As it begins on May 6, this National Nurses Week finds Dr. Mirkin back where it all began for her, at Stony Brook, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and launched a career that’s taken her to leading positions in hospitals throughout the New York area.
Appointed in February as Stony Brook Medicine’s new Chief Nursing Officer, Dr. Mirkin leads clinical and administrative operations and strategy for patient care services, with the goal of delivering the highest standard of care to all of Stony Brook Medicine’s patients.
On the eve of National Nurses Week, Dr. Mirkin – who also holds a master’s degree from Columbia University and a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from Case Western Reserve University – discussed her work at Stony Brook Medicine and the path that led her back to Stony Brook.
You got your degree here at the same time that the Hospital was being completed, in 1980. How much or how little do you recognize of what you saw back then when you come to work here?
There’s a total transformation since I was here. The hospital was just in the process of opening when I graduated, but as a nursing student here, we went onto all the units, because this was the hospital of the future. One of the things that I did find really exceptional about Stony Brook was that there were computers at every nursing station, and when I had done my clinical rotations in other hospitals, that didn’t exist. So, this was a very forward thinking design. Also, the physical layout of the nursing station in the center and a round design around the perimeter, to keep the nurses in the center was very unique. Now, clearly, the hospital has transformed into an academic medical center of excellence, which I had every hope that it would, and every confidence that it would.
You came here for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, which is becoming the gold standard for nurses in the top hospital systems, but it wasn’t in 1980. What drew you to pursue it back then?
I’ve always been an advocate of higher levels of education, and so, for me personally, my minimum standard was to achieve a baccalaureate in nursing. On a national front, nursing as a profession is moving toward a BSN as the minimum educational standard, which I support. In other professions, such as pharmacy and physical therapy, a doctorate is the educational standard. When you think about the responsibilities nurses have for managing patients – medication management, assessment, all the things that keep patients safe and allow them to heal – I personally believe that there should be a minimum educational standard. I pursued my doctorate in Nursing Practice because I value formal education. Clinical expertise is critical, but a competent professional is someone who possesses both formal education and clinical expertise.
You’ve worked in the New York metropolitan area over the last 37 years. How much opportunity have you had in that time to come back to campus before you took the job?
I came back here once professionally – I was asked to speak to nursing students in the School of Nursing. My husband and I are both Stony Brook graduates, so we have come back a few times over the years, to look at the campus, and to reminisce. I also brought my daughters here to see the Campus and my former dorm in Roth Quad.
When you came back to look at the campus, where did you go?
We went to Roth Quad – which is where we both lived, in Hendrix College – and looked at the pond. I still have a t-shirt that says, “The Bridge to Nowhere.” That was iconic for Stony Brook, and we loved it as students. I went back to some of the lecture halls, which is interesting, because now I have meetings in some of those same lecture halls, and it really does make it very nostalgic for me.
I had an amazing education here. The School of Nursing, in my opinion, is best in class. We were very integrated with the medical and the dental students, as we had similar classes in the basic sciences. The Stony Brook School of Nursing’s philosophy and expectation was that a nurse needs to know as much as physicians and dentists in the fundamental sciences. Socially, it was a really exciting time to be at Stony Brook. There was a lot of socialization on the campus, and it was an extraordinary foundation for the rest of my career.
You mentioned meeting your husband here…care to tell the story?
I met my husband on the day I moved in. I transferred in as a junior, because I was matriculating into the nursing program. My husband had been here for the previous three years; he’s a year older than I am. I was in the parking lot unloading my car, and I was the new face in the quad. He came right out to the car and offered to help me move in. I thought he was kind of cute, but I really didn’t want a boyfriend at the time. The rest is history: we’ve been together 41 years.
My brother attended Stony Brook and met his (ex-)wife here, and my brother-in-law went here. We have a family of Stony Brook graduates.
So now that you’re back here, has that brought your brother and your brother-in-law back more?
It will. My husband and I went to the Stars of Stony Brook Gala this year, and there was a big wall with the Stony Brook logo. My husband ran over to the wall and said, “Let’s take a picture of the two of us in front of the logo.” And then, he actually took out my graduation picture, which he had brought to the Gala, and he said, “Look! Isn’t this incredible?” And it kind of was.
Being back has certainly heightened all of our awareness of how wonderful Stony Brook is. My brother is a surgeon, my ex-sister-in-law is a nurse, and my brother-in-law is an optometrist. We’re all professionals, and all of us really received the great foundation of a Stony Brook education in our baccalaureate years. It’s been wonderful for us, and will continue to be.
When you found out about this opportunity, and you heard “Stony Brook,” what was the first thing that came to mind?
I was incredibly excited, and thought that life is a full circle. I started my career here, and I am thrilled to be back at Stony Brook Medicine in a position in which I can make a positive impact on the future of nursing at Stony Brook Medicine.
So what drew you back here, besides the memories?
Well, the fact that it is an academic medical center, that I think Stony Brook is a center of excellence, and that there are opportunities to improve the way we deliver care, improve outcomes, improve systems and processes. I have a lot of experience doing that in other organizations. I was very excited about the opportunity to create a destination for nursing at Stony Brook Medicine, to recruit and retain nurses, because of the culture and the level of respect and the autonomy that could be provided to nurses here.
The announcement of your hiring said that you “will lead the overall clinical and administrative operations and strategy for patient care services.” What does that look like on a day-to-day basis?
It’s busy. And very exciting. My role involves assessing the organization from every aspect of patient care and implementing best practice standards across the Hospital. It’s critical that we provide patient-centered care in a safe, effective and efficient way. And it’s not just about nursing; we need to build upon our culture of inter-professional communication and collaboration to improve patient outcomes. We need to ensure that throughput, and how patients flow through the system, is effective. We need to ensure that we provide a safe environment for our patients and that our discharge plan for our patients provides enough knowledge and resources once they go home to be able to manage their health. So it’s really keeping the patient experience as patient-centric as possible, and designing systems and processes so that patients get the right care at the right time. Every day is different, challenging and rewarding. My focus is always on advocating for the patients and supporting my staff so they can provide excellent care.
You’ve been in executive positions for more than half your career. Is it a challenge in those roles to be able to stay connected to the relationship between nurse and patient, nurse and doctor, nurse and family?
It’s challenging because of all the competing priorities in healthcare, but not challenging for me personally, because I truly believe that you lead through building relationships and developing a culture of collaboration. My biggest joy is rounding on the nurses, rounding with the staff, meeting the patients, connecting them to physicians, connecting them to the departments. That, to me, is a challenge and my greatest joy.
When patients come into a hospital, especially a hospital like Stony Brook Medicine, they expect excellent medical care. They’re getting the “rock star” doctors, and they expect that. The biggest difference between a great experience and a terrible experience for a patient is really everything else. Factors that impact the patient experience are how compassionate nurses are, how quickly their bells are answered, how responsive they are to the patients. Nurses have a critical role in influencing the patient experience, as well as caring for the patients and keeping patients safe. My role, as the Chief Nursing Officer, is to support the Nursing Team by removing barriers to care and ensuring that the staff have the resources they need to provide excellent patient care.
You mentioned coming back to speak to students before you took the job here. Have you had the opportunity to speak to students since you’ve been back? What do you tell them?
Yes, I love to round on the patient care units, and I actually met with a group of nursing students yesterday. It was their first day on one of medical-surgical units here. You could see the fear in their eyes, and I took the opportunity to speak to them and offer guidance and inspiration. I think that they were very grateful about the excitement, challenges and the opportunity to learn here. I love mentoring students. I think every day should be a day of learning, and so I really intend to foster that relationship.