Elizabeth Gillam, MSN, RN, APRN, FNP-BC, CCRN, CNML, knows that nursing is hard. And she knows that recently, it’s only gotten harder. But she believes that’s just an opportunity to grow.
“I think of it as a challenge that we get to face. We get to be creative,” Elizabeth says. “Thinking of things differently can be scary but a cool challenge. And we get to be creative.”
It’s probably no surprise that Elizabeth, now the Executive Director of Nursing, Medical-Surgical Service Line at Mercy Hospital, considers herself a “fixer.” At Mercy, her job is to “literally listen to people’s problems and fix them,” she says, whether those are minor or navigating fundamental questions about how to shape the future of nursing.
We’re honored to present Elizabeth with one of our 2022 Young Alumni Awards for her leadership and dedication to extraordinary care.
“I’m so honored,” she says. “I’m so grateful for the time I had there. Everything I’ve done since was unlocked by being a student there.”
Finding Strength Thorugh Service
Pursuing a career in healthcare was never a question — there were a lot of healthcare providers in her family, and Elizabeth knew that her calling was to serve others.
“I had awesome role models who described healthcare as a mix of science and art,” she recalls. “I could combine my love of science with my desire to connect and form relationships.”
Her original plan was to become a dentist. Both of her parents were dentists, and she went through a bachelor’s degree and a pre-master with that end goal in mind.
As Elizabeth waited to hear back from dental schools, she talked to her sister on the phone every day. Her sister was studying at Goldfarb School of Nursing and regaled Elizabeth with stories about the classes she was taking and the patients she was meeting. “Man, she’s really onto something,” Elizabeth remembers thinking. “This is really cool.”
When Elizabeth got waitlisted at dental school, her sister’s stories stuck with her.
“I didn’t want to give up on my dream of dental school,” she says, “But I wanted to take care of people. And maybe this was a different way.”
And that was the way she chose. Elizabeth moved back to St. Louis to start at Goldfarb — although, at times, she doubted whether that was the right choice.
“It was super hard,” she says. “There were multiple times when I thought, I don’t know if this is for me.” But her sister encouraged her to stick it out until she started working with the patients. “I got to clinicals and realized, this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing,” Elizabeth says.
On the floor and as a bedside nurse, Elizabeth was drawn to the challenging situations and the opportunity to make people and their loved ones feel cared for and seen. “People are not there for joyful reasons and they don’t feel good,” she says. “Forming intimate connections with patients and families is the coolest part of nursing.”
Leading By Example
After Elizabeth completed Goldfarb’s Accelerated one-year BSN program and soon got a position at Mercy Hospital, where she practiced as a PRN (she received her MSN from Marysville University) and as a bedside nurse in the cardiovascular ICU. When the nurse manager of her unit left, Elizabeth told her executive director how much she aspired to hold the role — one day.
“I said, ‘Well, I’m too young. I have no business being manager of a unit, but I love this place. This is my home,” Elizabeth recalls.
She started as interim the following Monday and stayed as manager for 3.5 more years before her next promotion. Now, she’s the executive director of nursing, overseeing six different departments.
“I loved nursing leadership more than I would have ever known or thought,” she says. “It’s not where I saw my career going, but I ended up exactly where I’m supposed to be. I love this team and the patients we serve.”
But she hasn’t forgotten what it was like to be a student, wondering if she had made the wrong decision to pursue a nursing career.
“My advice is, you can do anything in nursing,” she says, pointing out the opportunities to step into careers from running hospitals to working as a school nurse or helping community health. “I can’t think of another degree where you can do so many different things with one degree.”
If you’re taking classes that might not feel like the right course of study, Elizabeth’s sister’s guidance holds: “Just wait for the people you get to serve.”
Today, Elizabeth is responsible for 250 patient beds and 600 individual coworkers at Mercy. Still, she attests that a nurse never really stops being a student.
“Medicine and nursing are changing so much. There are always things we have to learn, whether that’s a fact about a medication or a tool to unlock something for a patient,” she says. “A great nurse is never done learning.”
We are honored to present Elizabeth with the Young Alumni Award at Homecoming on September 23, 2022.