Blue Devil of the Week: Preserving Her Patients’ Dignity

Duke Regional Hospital nurse Elise Overstreet provides empathy and information for critical care patients

Elise Overstreet, a clinical nurse at Duke Regional Hospital, is a calming presence for patients and colleagues.
Elise Overstreet, a clinical nurse at Duke Regional Hospital, is a calming presence for patients and colleagues.

Name: Elise Overstreet

Title: Clinical Nurse, Duke Regional Hospital

Years at Duke: 5

What she does: Duke Regional’s Critical Care Unit sees a diverse group of patients with a wide array of serious health issues. Being a nurse in that environment forces you to be well-versed in many kinds of care. That need to be nimble and constantly curious is something Overstreet has embraced.

“We’re always in a race to learn more and be able to serve all of the sub-specialties in our 22-bed unit,” Overstreet said. “So I’m extremely proud to be a Duke Regional Intensive Care nurse and be able to be that multi-faceted in my scope of practice.”

She’s also distinguished herself as an empathetic presence for both new nurses and her unit’s patients. 

After seeing how a lack of information led to imprudent decisions by patients and their families, Overstreet started a project focused on improving the experience of those receiving treatment. With the help of a committee of bright medical minds, Overstreet created an informational packet for patients explaining how the unit works, what terms mean and what challenges they may face.

“We’re trying to help them see these terms before they’re being confronted with them in the moment of choice,” Overstreet said.

What I love about Duke: “I love Duke for its appreciation of research and for wanting to improve care and follow evidence-based practice. I think it’s exciting to do that here at Duke Regional … because we serve our community, we serve our neighbors and our loved ones.”

Memorable days at work: Overstreet’s nursing experience has taught her the value of making patients’ final moments as pleasant as possible.

“When their families were there with them until the end and I know that the person in the bed was treated with dignity and did not suffer in their last moments,” Overstreet said when asked about days at work she appreciates. “It’s very odd because you’re going home and you’ve had somebody leave this world. But you feel good about it because you gave their loved ones something that can last with them the rest of their lives. Good memories instead of bad memories.”

What couldn’t you do your job without: “My team. I couldn’t do this job if I didn’t have a good team,” she said. “You don’t even have to ask for help here. People just pay attention and support you. They’re just there around you because everybody wants the best for the patient here.”

First ever job: As a teenager, Overstreet worked as a Subway sandwich artist in her hometown of Burnt Hills, New York.

“I think about it a lot,” she said. “You’d get up really early in the morning to bake the bread and to cut up all the vegetables. You’re by yourself in there doing that. It was really therapeutic. I kind of miss that.”

Best advice ever received: Overstreet’s first job in medicine came at a urology clinic where she was taking over for a nurse who was battling terminal cancer. Knowing that Overstreet would soon replace her, the nurse told her to be ready to learn quickly.

“Get your roller skates on,” she told a nervous Overstreet.

Overstreet says she still wears her figurative “roller skates,” always staying in motion.

“You’ve just got to learn, you’ve just got to move,” Overstreet said. “If something doesn’t go right, you’ve got to come up with a different solution and keep on going.”

Something that most people don’t know about her: Before becoming a nurse, Overstreet indulged her passion for painting. She describes the abstract works that came out of that period as “colorful” and “emotional.”

“It was very therapeutic and really expressive,” Overstreet said. “… It’s my retirement plan, to go back to doing that.”

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