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Nurse Lisa Phalen treasures her RUSH ‘family,’ gives thanks for invitations to ‘sit at the table’

A health crisis in her youth inspired Lisa to pursue a career in medicine: the Albany, N.Y. native received growth hormone shots every day from age 3 to 13 to correct her stalled physical development.

While studying pre-med biology in pursuit of that goal, she realized her passion lay in the hands-on, relationship-building field of nursing.

Phalen’s journey led her to Rush University Medical Center, where she says she felt at home from the moment she interviewed for a job there as a newly minted Registered Nurse 17 years ago.

“Everyone was so positive, welcoming and warm” during the interview process, said Phalen, 42, of Lake View. “They wanted you to succeed, and to be the best version of yourself.”

She just celebrated her 10th year at Rush, interrupted by a move to Los Angeles following her husband’s job relocation. The moment they moved back to Chicago, she returned to Rush.

Phalen has thrived under Rush’s philosophy, allowing nurses to work in a variety of specialties, and is proud to have shared ideas with hospital executives to improve procedures.

“As a new nurse, it was very scary,” she said. “You feel like you don’t know anything. I got paired up with the most amazing [mentor] who spent eight weeks with me during orientation, helping me understand policies, procedures, where to find supplies, and even how to talk to doctors.”

Phalen started as a staff nurse on a medical-surgical floor working with patients whose illnesses ranged from diabetes to congestive heart failure to end-stage renal disease. She is now certified in chemotherapy treatment and works in an oncology unit.

One thing stands out about Rush nurses, Phalen says: “They want to do better for their patients, the staff, coworkers and the facility.” And at Rush, they can. “They can get involved in committees. They can say, ‘Let’s make this better or change it.’”

Phalen’s own professional career is a testament to that. She’s now the president-elect of Rush’s professional nursing staff, a key element of the hospital’s shared governance model.

That cohesiveness served the hospital well during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The best part was watching everyone come together, day in and day out,” Phalen said. “The operating room nurses worked on the PPE [supply] group. I volunteered with ICU because I’d never had that experience. So many people came out of their comfort zone and worked together as a team.”

Having a voice — and feeling heard — is one of the things she values most about working at Rush. “I get to sit at the table with the chief nursing officer and bring the nursing staff ’s concerns to her,” she said.

But what she loves most about her work are the deep bonds she builds with her colleagues, whether it’s sharing her experiences to reassure a new, overwhelmed RN, or learning that a former patient requested her by name when he returned years later for additional treatment.

“Just to know that someone trusts me at that level,” she said. “Being a Rush nurse, there’s this proudness to be a nurse here.”