Triage nurse cares for patients one phone call at a time

Sarah Carey uses family medicine and hospital experience to reach out remotely

Triage nurse cares for patients one phone call at a time

Sarah Carey starts her nursing shift at 7 a.m. But instead of putting on scrubs, masking up and seeing her patients in person, she turns on her computer from her home office.

As a triage nurse, Carey assesses patients and evaluates their symptoms to determine the level of care they need — all by phone. She also answers messages from patients on My Sanford Chart, an online resource that allows people to message a health care provider anytime.

Carey is one of four family medicine nurses in Fargo, North Dakota, who work from home. The idea started when one of Carey’s fellow nurses moved to a rural area and was faced with an almost two-hour commute to work.

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“I’m blessed that Sanford has taken that approach, to look at some people’s lives or situation and ask, ‘How can we do things differently?’” she said.

Simple acts of care

From assessing patients with COVID-19 symptoms and refilling medications to communicating test results, on every call she answers, Carey asks the simple question, “How can I help you today?”

If she’s concerned about a patient, often Carey will reach out to them again the next day.

“I’ll surprise them by calling to check on them,” she said. “I know that has meant the world to quite a few of our patients when we’ve done that.”

Through small, simple acts, Carey finds ways to help put her patients at ease during situations that can be stressful or overwhelming.

If she has a caller who may have a serious medical condition but is hesitant to visit the emergency room, she’ll talk through their fears until they feel ready to make the trip.

“Sometimes it can take a half-hour conversation, but I feel that once we get to that point, I’ve earned their trust,” she said.

Once they’re on their way, Carey will then often call ahead and explain their condition to the emergency room staff.

“I always try to put myself in their shoes and ask what I would feel if I was in that situation,” she said. “And I’d hope someone would help me or at least guide me.”

A career in family medicine

Carey’s journey with nursing began in high school when she became a certified nursing assistant at the local long-term care facility in Alexandria, Minnesota.

“It was such an eye-opener,” she said. “You see a lot of happy times and sadness, but there were always little things you could do, such as helping someone get ready in the morning to make them feel beautiful.”

After earning her licensed practical nursing degree, she started her first job as a nurse on the medical surgery floor at MeritCare, today known as Sanford Health.

“I was completely green, fresh out of school and scared out of my mind, but it was absolutely amazing,” she said.

And since completing her associate’s registered nursing degree, Carey has worked in a variety of family medicine roles in hospital and clinic settings until she became a triage nurse last year.

“I’ve always had a special passion for family medicine and trying to take care of patients the best I can,” she said. “So I truly love what I do.”

Care during COVID-19

Carey and her team typically answer about 100 phone calls a day and respond to almost as many My Sanford Chart messages. Since the pandemic began, their volume of calls has gone up.

But Carey doesn’t shy away from new challenges. Instead, each day she strives to provide the best care she can, one call at a time.

“I’m proud to be a nurse and I can’t imagine not doing it,” she said. “Even if it’s more from afar and not on-site anymore, it’s still super rewarding.”

At Sanford Health, we’re celebrating the International Year of the Nurse by honoring our nurses’ unique calling, compassion and commitment to patient and resident care.

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Posted In Emergency Medicine, Family Medicine, Fargo, Nursing and Nursing Support, Rural Health, Sanford Stories, Virtual Care