Sanford nursing leader draws on 20 years in Air Force

Tracy Kaeslin's supervised doctors, techs — and transformed a chapel into an ICU

Tracy Kaeslin smiles while talking to an off-camera interviewer

Tracy Kaeslin’s father was an Air Force man who served 30 years as a B-52 navigator. It made for a typical military upbringing in that every few years the family moved and the Kaeslins got a chance to see new things and meet new people.

That was just fine with Kaeslin, who grew to like all that moving around. As she pursued a career in nursing at California State University, Fresno, she became deeply involved in leadership with the California Student Nurses Association. As such she became familiar with Air Force recruiters.

It wasn’t like this Sanford Health nurse needed the recruiters to explain Air Force life. It may have aided her, though, in helping her make what became a career decision.

Kaeslin tries it for ‘three years’

“I had a great life as a kid growing up in the military,” she said. “My dad loved it, my mom loved it. And I was a family member of an active duty member. I thought ‘Well, I’ll try it for three and see how it goes.’ So I signed for three and stayed for 20.”

When Kaeslin joined the Air Force, she’d lived in Fresno for seven years. That seemed like a long time to be spending in one place for a military kid, even one who has recently graduated from college.

“It was like ‘OK, I’ve seen most everything there is to do here and it’s time to move on,” Kaeslin said.

Her 20 years in the Air Force — she is a retired lieutenant colonel — gave her the opportunity to take on a great variety of duties and leadership roles. At various times in her career she has supervised doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, medical technicians and physical therapists.

“One of the things that kept me in the Air Force so long was my leaders’ faith in my abilities,” Kaeslin said. “The mentoring I got in my Air Force career was outstanding. I’m grateful to a lot of mentors over those 20 years. When you have someone who is invested in your personal growth and development, that’s a huge factor in your performance and your outcomes.”

Leadership roles continue

Her role at Sanford in Fargo, not surprisingly, has been as a leader and chief nurse as well. Within both environments, guiding and educating are primary responsibilities.

Normally she works two days a week and labels herself “semi-retired.” She’s serving as a full-time interim inpatient nurse manager for a few months, however, while Sanford Health works to fill the vacancy permanently.

Her military experience has included adventures not part of normal nursing, if such a thing as normal nursing exists. She was deployed to Germany for several months during the Gulf War. As can often be the case, she was called on to make the most of what she had. That included things like opening a 500-bed hospital in a week.

“We improvised a lot at the time,” Kaeslin said. “We didn’t have enough IV poles to go around. And we didn’t have enough of this and we didn’t have enough of that. Our bedside equipment was antiquated in some instances. We really learned how to improvise, adapt and overcome in that environment. We were in an old German hospital and our unit was in the chapel, which was kind of eerie.”

Always something different

Kaeslin understood then that not every situation in nursing is going to unfold as expected. It is on those occasions she draws on the qualities it takes to transform a chapel into an ICU.

When Kaeslin retired from the military and went work for Sanford, one of her initiatives was to improve standardization. It’s a process that targets increased quality and safety while reducing costs.

It is an example of delivering on efficiency and accountability. In short, Kaeslin has been there. And she’s done that.

“I had a lot of inspection experience,” she said. “We dealt with military inspections roughly every 18 months. Throughout my career, both medically and with the Air Force, those inspections really helped me.”

Kaeslin’s transition from the Air Force to Sanford is an example of adaptability. It includes an ability to pass along nursing knowledge while also providing the example of a leadership model that serves everyone.

“I have to say my time at Sanford that I’ve worked for leaders who appreciate the skills I bring to the table,” she said. “I feel valued for my military experience.”

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Posted In Faces of Sanford Health, Veterans

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