Carol Cressman is director of pediatrics, PICU, pediatric outpatients and childlife services at Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Here, she shares her love of working as a pediatric critical care nurse, pediatric flight nurse, and transformational leader; explains how a personal loss led her to continue to lead the team at Sanford Health; and highlights the importance of both one’s own family and the Sanford Family.
Becoming an Intensive Air nurse
Cressman grew up in Sioux Falls, one of seven children. Her father worked as a truck driver for John Morrell (now Smithfield Foods), and her mother worked in the catering.
After graduating from Brandon Valley High School, Cressman attended the Sioux Valley School of Nursing, earning her diploma in 1982. Even before completing her degree, Cressman began working for Sioux Valley as a nurse aide in pediatrics in at age 17.
A year after graduating, Cressman joined the flight crew on Intensive Air (now AirMed), one of seven nurses. Over the course of 26 years, Cressman took well over 400 flights, not only bringing children to Sioux Falls but also taking them to facilities in Michigan, Massachusetts, New Mexico — wherever they needed to go.
With the growth of Sanford Health and its range of services, children are rarely transferred out except of instances of severe burns, open-heart surgery and transplant.
Continuing education, teaching and advancement
Cressman has a passion for advancement and returned to school and earned her B.S. in nursing in 1994 from South Dakota State University (SDSU).
At the same time, she taught pediatric advanced life support (PALS) and the emergency nurse pediatric course (ENPC) and advanced to become faculty in both of these curriculums. She also taught pediatric emergency stabilization to outreach sites in a three-state region and to EMS conferences.
All the while, she continued her shift work.
She was promoted to the manager of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), she loved the bedside care and continued to work weekends and pediatric flight shifts to maintain that expertise.
“It led to some long days, but it was well worth it and very satisfying,” Cressman said.
She progressed to the director of the PICU, and in 2012, she became the director of all pediatric inpatient services.
Shortly thereafter, she earned her M.S.N. in nursing, with an administrative emphasis, from SDSU. Time constraints with the director role for the entire inpatient team meant she could no longer be part of the flight team or teach, however.
Connecting with kids
In her current role, Cressman’s primary responsibilities are ensuring safety and quality in the pediatric world.
“We also must make sure all staff are educated, regulatory requirements are met, the right equipment is present and staff are trained to provide high-quality care while being fiscally responsible,” Cressman said.
“We are so fortunate that Sanford Health and the community have invested in the care of children because pediatrics is not a moneymaker,” she said. “Sanford Health believes in kids. They support our services, and we need the philanthropic donations they provide.”
In addition to those previously mentioned responsibilities, Cressman has to ensure patients and staff are satisfied. She conducts rounds on the patients and their families, inquiring about their experiences at Sanford Children’s Hospital.
“It really fills my cup. It’s why we are all here,” Cressman said. “It’s an opportunity to meet and get to know the courageous children and their amazing families.”
A long, distinguished career
In the course of 39 years at Sanford Health, Cressman is proud of many things.
One is the creation of the Castle of Care in Sioux Falls. Children normally wouldn’t want to go back to a place where they spent potentially months dealing with a health crisis, but after they are discharged and return for an appointment, many parents report that their children are excited to return to “my castle,” as they refer to it.
“But truly it’s the people inside that are the magic,” Cressman adds.
The second is her long record as a flight nurse. She still is in contact with some of children she cared for at that time — a lawyer in Rapid City who she helped when he was six years old, the family of a college freshman who she cared for when he was seven, and many more.
Cressman has a smile of pride as she speaks of the relationships with her pediatric staff and other disciplines.
“I work with a wonderful caring staff at the castle. I am blessed. I have had the opportunity to learn from many great leaders like JoEllen Koerner, Becky Nelson, Rosalie Cook, Jan Haugen Rogers, Dianna Berkland, Steve Haun, Joe Segeleon and Andy Munce and many more,” Cressman said.
The relationships and moments that she has had over the years with other department directors and staff who provided a listening ear and mentoring are deeply cherished.
Looking forward, Cressman intends to hardwire the safety and quality practices and top-notch patient experience and continue to cultivate an excellent team of leaders, as she plans for her retirement from the most trusted profession of nursing.
Creating a bereavement program
One of Cressman’s early contributions to Sanford Health was the creation of the bereavement follow-up program in the 1990s. She worked to support other families who experience a loss.
Cressman led the implementation of the program, trained staff, and coordinated with Rosalie Cook and the chaplain to provide phone follow-up with families for years.
Sanford Health now has a very qualified pediatric palliative care program, hospice program and Ava’s House, all of which support adults and children through their journey to death and continuing through the bereavement of that precious child.
Our value of Family really exists
Cressman’s own son, Ryan, passed away at age 22, and Cressman says that is really when she experienced the strength of the Sanford Family.
“They surrounded my family and me through a tough journey and were very patient during my healing. That was an extremely difficult time and has been the most painful and dark part of my life,” Cressman said. “I believe it’s made me a stronger person and has impacted my nursing career. It’s why I believe in supporting families here and supporting our staff as a family.”
“Leaving this world is as intimate an experience as coming into it,” Cressman said. “Experiencing this with my patients and my own family has changed me spiritually.”
Cressman prays for her staff and patients requesting the “fruits of the spirit” to bless them — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
“Our ultimate gift is to be truly present with our patients, families and others,” said Cressman. “We need to listen with our whole heart. We need to accept who they are and also who we are and be OK with that.”
Get to know Carol Cressman
- Education: Sioux Valley School of Nursing and South Dakota State University. She holds a B.S. in nursing and an M.S.N. in nursing with an administrative emphasis.
- Family: Married to her husband, Dan, for 37 years. Oldest daughter, Melissa, is a nurse in Des Moines, Iowa. She and her husband, Greg, have blessed them with one grandchild, Logan. Son, Ryan (1989-2012), loved life and enjoyed soccer, football and swimming.
- Hobbies: Spending time with family, camping, boating, reading, gardening and traveling.
- Sanford AirMed: Air ambulances provide care in the air
- Bringing Christmas to the Castle
- Children’s specialty care: A team approach