Susan G. Trevithick’s rule of thumb is simple and straightforward, “Come to work and do your job.” This philosophy couldn’t be more important for one employed by the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center for more than 23 years, which provides treatment for U.S. veterans. Ms. Trevithick has served as the chief compliance officer, managing staff and various departments, overseeing the critical care and specialty care units, and implementing various successful programs. Specifically, she developed an integrated health care program in collaboration with a colleague, which has become increasingly sought after by veterans and organizations funding veteran care. “It’s very effective in managing patients with PTSD and other things such as stress and anxiety that can impact mental health,” she explains.
With over 41 years of experience in both nursing and administration, it is hard to believe that health care was not Ms. Trevithick’s first career choice. In fact, all throughout high school, her goal was to become an interior designer. However, she was deterred from her former ambitions when her father was involved in a car accident that nearly killed him. After his car was broadsided by a drunk driver, a nurse who saw the crash rushed to take action that saved her father’s life. It was this experience that made Ms. Trevithick think twice about her chosen career path. She ultimately earned a Bachelor of Science from the University of Utah College of Nursing in 1971, followed by a Master of Science in Cardiovascular Nursing 10 years later from the same institution.
Ms. Trevithick is a member of the Health Care Compliance Association and is certified in health care compliance. A former chairwoman of Cornerstone Counseling Services and the American Heart Association, Ms. Trevithick also served on the board of directors with the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, maintaining CCRN certification from 1981 to 1991. She is a member of Sigma Theta Tau International and the Council on Cardiovascular Nursing. She has held first line, middle management and program responsibilities in health care, and maintains certification as an NE-BC. She has written extensively on the topics of health care management, critical care nursing, and integrative health care, and is a sought-after motivational speaker for health care providers.
Ms. Trevithick attributes her success to her parents, competitive siblings, collaborative colleagues, lifelong learning and education, work ethic, and sense of humor. As the years progress, she intends to continue working in medical hypnosis for patients suffering from pain, stress and anxiety.
Conversation with Susan G. Trevithick, RN, MS, NE-BC
WORLDWIDE PUBLISHING: On what topic(s) do you consider yourself to be an expert?
Susan G. Trevithick: Critical care, integrative health, management, and motivation. These are the areas that I go out and consult on.
What characteristics help to separate you from your competitors?
My motivation and [willingness to put in] the extra time to get what it is that my clients are trying to achieve.
What motivates you?
My motivation comes from sharing information with other people in a way that is effective for them, a way that they enjoy, and in a manner that is useful. If you are able to get the information across in a clear manner and in a way that they [like], then they will be able to use it right away.
What lessons have you learned as a professional in your field?
In management, I try to be very clear with employees so one of my rules is, “Come to work and do your job.” The other one is, “Don’t mess around with peoples’ time and money.”
These [rules] handle two key areas in managing people. People often have absentee records that affect their overall performance, so I try to get across for them to come to work. Once they are [present], they should be committed to the mission of the organization and the patients that they are working with. They should also work effectively with the rest of the team.
You can help them [to] be self-directed in developing a work schedule and recognize their performance. Most managers spend 80 percent of their time working with those who are “problem children,” and I think we should visibly recognize people who come to work, are committed and do a good job.
My other piece of advice is if you can present information to people with an example that is clear and contains some humor, they will remember it longer.
What short-term and long-term career goals are you currently pursuing?
My long-term goal is to make a role transition into the private sector and [join] a private practice clinic providing hypnosis. My short-term goal is to work with a woman named Sandra Smeeding to continue to develop integrative health programs ― setting them up, etc. People need integrative health in their health care and most organizations, and providers don’t know how to do that. She and I have worked together for more than 10 years to help organizations put plan[s] together that their hospital[s] will buy into and that are effective for their patients.
What is the most difficult obstacle or challenge you have faced in pursuit of your goals?
The most difficult challenge has been to continue to have hospital management buy off on the integrative health concept and not have them repeatedly go back to tried and true Western medicine.
What is the most significant issue facing your profession today?
Having enough qualified providers in the areas that need the people, especially for the VA organizations — having enough people to provide the service and outreach programs.
Many “street people” are veterans, and we are building a Valor House that will provide a place for them to live and stay while they reestablish their lives. They can get mental and physical health care, obtain job skills, and attend support groups. We need to continue to do this for not only the veteran population, but for others as well.
We have had the Fisher House for over a year now, which was donated by the Fisher Foundation, and allows families of veterans who are hospitalized to live with their loved ones. It makes people feel like we are not just providing a patient room ― it’s a long-term room. It’s a wonderful idea for the families of veterans who are in for a long stay.
Did you ever consider pursuing a different career path or another profession?
I considered interior design early in high school and it is still a special interest of mine.
How did you end up working in your current field?
My father was nearly killed in an automobile accident because he was broadsided by a kid who [was] driving drunk with no license, and there was a nurse who saw the crash and she went out of her house and saved his life. He was bleeding from a major artery, but she knew what to do. After that, I realized that [nursing] would be a better way for me to contribute to society.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of your profession?
Making a difference and making people feel good about themselves, whether they are a provider or a patient. Sharing who and what you are with people allows them to see that they can do those things, too.
What advice can you offer fellow members or others aspiring to work in your industry?
The first thing to do is identify what is meaningful to you. I have had a personal philosophy that I have worked with that I published when I ran for a national board position for critical care nurses. It’s along the lines of, “If you don’t have 500 people to make a difference, be a voice of one and be powerful.”
After you identify who you are and what you’re willing to do in terms of time, money and energy, then you are on the right track. Then you have to fit into a job you like with an organization that you believe in, and with people with similar ideas, goals and motivations.