When you meet Brennan Waltner, odds are you’ll leave with a smile.
Waltner is a catheterization lab RN at the Sanford Heart Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
There, his bubbly, kind, and humorous personality helps to ease the worry of patients before, and during, procedures.
“My go-to is to kind of joke around, and make it a little lighter in the room,” he said.
Waltner’s humor is contagious, but so is his compassion.
He says many times, patients who come into the cath lab are nervous and don’t need humor, but instead need reassurance.
“I’ll get a little more serious and just say, ‘Hey, we’re here for you. We’re going to help you out in whatever way. If you need me to be talking to you, kind of distracting you during the procedure, that’s totally fine,” said Waltner.
“I try to meet their needs,” he added.
Nursing has been a family affair for Waltner. His older sister is a nurse, along with other close family members.
He earned his nursing degree in 2019 from the University of Sioux Falls. But, the idea of becoming a nurse didn’t come from just his sister and family.
When Waltner was in kindergarten, his father’s mitral valve wasn’t working properly, and had to be replaced. Although Waltner was very young during this procedure, his interest in nursing was sparked.
“Early on with my dad’s heart issues, that sparked interest with me in the heart scene. I remember seeing diagrams and pamphlets about what was going on during those surgeries. Those pamphlets told us what the surgery was going to be, how it would work, and that sparked my interest right away,” he said.
Later, his father had to have a pacemaker and an ICD, or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, put in as well.
“Just being surrounded by that my whole life definitely gave me more interest in the cardiovascular area. I was already interested in nursing, but then the cardiovascular problems my dad had really gave me an interest in the area,” said Waltner.
In some ways, being a cath lab RN has been a full-circle type experience for Waltner. One of the reasons? He now works for the same cardiologist who operated on his dad.
“Dr. Scott Pham still works here, and I’m able to work with him pretty regularly. That’s something that’s really cool, working with the cardiologist who follows your father, and I just love working with him. He’s a great doctor, and a great guy altogether.”
‘I’ve always been a people person’
Waltner found inspiration to become a nurse not only from his families’ experiences, but he’s also always had a heart for people.
“I figured nursing is a really great way to help out people, especially when they’re at the most vulnerable state of their life, especially if they’re coming in for an emergent catheterization,” he said.
And, the ability to help people on a daily basis makes his job everything he’s dreamed of.
“For me to be able to help these patients out, help them feel a little bit more comfortable, a little less anxious about the procedure, it’s really worth it.
“It’s really nice to hear patients say, ‘Hey, you really helped me feel calm about the procedure. I was really anxious, but you kind of explained everything to me. So, I felt a lot more calm about everything that was going on,'” he said.
Nurse residency program
Recently, Sanford Health unveiled a nurse residency program to give students and prospective nurses firsthand experiences into what nurses do on a day-to-day basis.
Waltner was one of the first members of the program.
“It’s designed for new graduate nurses to get acquainted with nursing, and then to start in the cath lab. So, normally they don’t hire new grad nurses to the cath lab right away. They like experience in the ICU for about two years.
“So, what the residency program does is puts us on a fast track of getting to know nursing, and then getting to know ICU or critical care nursing,” said Waltner.
He started his first month on the medical surgical floor, getting the basics down. He says the gradual approach Sanford Health developed proved invaluable.
“I was a terrified new graduate. I didn’t know what the heck was going on. So, I was able to lay the base foundation of nursing in general, followed by two months of critical care nursing,” he said.
Learn more: Sanford Nurse Residency Program
Waltner says he learned a great deal being on the critical care floor. He dealt with “the sickest patients in the hospital,” every day.
It was these experiences that helped him become comfortable and ready to take on the duties and responsibilities that come with being a cath lab RN.
“Especially from my time in critical care, you’re keeping patients alive with different medications, different therapies. We usually use those same therapies and medications here in the cath lab when a patient isn’t doing well.
“Once you learn all that, being in the cath lab doesn’t seem as scary. I definitely felt prepared after having those months in the critical care unit.”
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