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Ely’s Jenny Houlihan - leading by example

One of Iowa's 100 Great Nurses

CEDAR RAPIDS– Jenny Houlihan has done a lot in her 13-year nursing career. She’s the current Director of Acute Adult Services at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids; she serves as secretary for her district’s chapter of the Iowa Organization of Nurse Leaders; she earned a master’s degree in nursing from the University of Iowa; and she is a long-time member of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.
She also holds the prestigious position of Girl Scout Troop #5819 leader.
The list just keeps on growing, especially now that she’s been named one of Iowa’s 100 Great Nurses.
Honorees for 2015’s 100 Great Iowa Nurses program are selected by their peers for their contributions to the field of nursing. The program, now in it’s 11th year, honors nurses from all areas of the health care field.
“I’m very humbled by it,” Houlihan said. “It’s an honor that someone would think enough about me to nominate.”
Humble is the exact word many use to describe Houlihan. Even with all of her achievements, she’s quick to defer any praise to her coworkers.
“When I think about it, I work with so many nurses that should be in that category,” she said. “A lot of the credit goes to the work that happens at the point of the patient experience.”
Colleague Carmen Kleinsmith said this is one of the defining aspects of Houlihan’s leadership style. Kleinsmith is the Vice President of Nursing Excellence and has worked closely with Houlihan for the past year and a half.
“She’s truly a servant leader. That’s why her style is special; it’s never, ever about her,” Kleinsmith said. “It’s about the accomplishments of the team and what they achieve together. She does a great job of empowering team members to contribute to progress.”
One of Houlihan’s biggest projects was creating an updated method for preparing St. Luke’s Hospital staff for medical emergencies. The hospital used the American Heart Association’s Advanced Cardiac Life Saving (ACLS) program. However, they found that additional content was necessary to prepare for the broader scope of emergencies that occur within the hospital.
Working with a team of ACLS-certified staff, Houlihan helped develop new curriculum titled the Chain of Response in an Emergency (CORE). CORE mixed the current ACLS policies with several other national and local guidelines to better fit the needs of the hospital.
According to Kleinsmith, this change was met with some skepticism when it was first introduced by those who were used to ACLS certification and subsequent re-certification.
But the program spoke for itself by providing customizable and interactive educational sessions that engaged staff in active learning.
“She included all of the right people and all the right stakeholders in the process,” Kleinsmith said. “She showed how this new program would meet the needs of staff with a very well-designed curriculum.”
Now, CORE classes are offered several times a year, with Houlihan serving as coordinating instructor.
Houlihan has worked at St. Luke’s since she completed her undergraduate work at the University of Iowa. She originally began as a staff nurse in the Cardiac Care Unit and Telemetry Unit before transitioning to IV Therapy. She later returned to the University of Iowa to pursue a master’s degree in nursing with an emphasis on management.
In 2008, she took her first leadership position as the nurse manager of the Cardiac Care Unit, and in December 2013, she moved into her current role as Director of Acute Adult Services, where she is responsible for respiratory care and eight adult inpatient units.
It is hard to believe nursing wasn’t even on the radar when Houlihan first started college. She always had a love for science and math and began her college career with the intention of studying engineering. After attending a career fair where she spoke with a representative from the University of Iowa’s nursing program, she realized she could use those interests to impact others in a major way.
“I had an ‘aha’ moment of how big of a role nursing can play when you think globally of health and wellness and where healthcare is going,” Houlihan said.
Though originally from Cedar Falls, Houlihan chose to stay in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area upon graduation. Her husband, Mike, is from Cedar Rapids and the two now live in Ely with their children: Olivia, 8, and Patrick, 5.
Houlihan also enjoyed how well UnityPoint Health and St. Luke’s Hospital were integrated with the community. It’s mission– to give the care you’d like your loved ones to receive– really resonated with the newly minted nurse looking to make an impact.
“That single statement is the driver for a lot of initiatives,” she said. “We keep the patients at the center of everything and I’m proud to be a part of that.”
Houlihan hopes that more people will become aware of the impactful role nurses play in health care, and feels 100 Great Iowa Nurses provides the public an important glimpse into all that nurses do.
“The program gives recognition to a very large profession where a lot of the work sometimes goes unnoticed,” Houlihan said. “I think of nurses at the bedside who are doing great work with patients and helping them through difficult times. I love that it allows opportunity for peer nomination from all parts of the community.”
Houlihan, along with all other award recipients, were honored at a celebration in Des Moines on May 3.