From the school library to the hospital operating room, UTHSCT director of procedural services finds ways to teach others

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

For Women in Business, Longview News-Journal, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010

As a school librarian in Henderson, Lauri Thomas helped chaperon the high school biology students when they took field trips to the medical complex in Houston to observe open heart surgeries.

While watching one of these surgeries, Thomas realized she wanted to be an operating room nurse.

So, even though she had a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in library science, she went back to school to get a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

But she didn’t stop there. The recently promoted director of procedural services at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler received her latest degree this past May, when she was awarded a master’s of science in nursing from The University of Texas at Tyler.

Thomas, who is a registered nurse, received the Graduate Excellence in Nursing Award from UT Tyler.

She also received the Outstanding Student Performance Award from the Tyler Iota Nu Chapter of the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

"I love challenges"
At UTHSCT, six departments report to her: surgical services, same-day services, post anesthesia care unit, anesthesiology, gastrointestinal endoscopy, and central sterile.

“I love surgery. I love challenges. I have a great staff and physicians who work with me, as well as the support of the administration. It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Thomas, who has been with the Health Science Center for more than nine years.

She and her staff recently reduced the amount of inventory they had on hand by more than $250,000 through implementing what are called “lean” concepts.

“You look at your operations and break them down into value-added processes. Your goal is to eliminate the processes that don’t add value,” said Thomas, who lives between Overton and New London.

“For example, we got rid of surgical supplies that we no longer need, and we standardized the supplies that we do carry,” she added. “My staff are the ones who really made this work. Everyone was involved, from the doctors to housekeeping.”

Educating patients facing surgery
Thomas readily admits she has to have a challenge or she gets bored. “Working in the health care field has provided challenges and rewards, which is why this career move has been the perfect fit,” said Thomas, who still finds opportunities to teach.

Earlier this year she made a presentation to the UT Academy of Health Science Education at their Innovations in Health Science Education Conference.

Thomas talked about how to educate patients facing surgeries, beginning before the surgery and continuing through postoperative care.

“Health care is all about teaching. My other degrees have helped me explain technical concepts in layperson’s terms. I’m able to get a sense of patients’ knowledge level, so I can explain things to them in ways they can understand,” she said.

Now that she’s finished her master’s, Thomas has time to weld metal art sculptures, do photography, and enjoy motorcycling with her husband.

For 60 years, The University of Texas Health Science Center has provided excellent patient care and cutting-edge treatment, specializing in pulmonary disease, cancer, heart disease, primary care, and the disciplines that support them. UTHSCT’s annual operating budget of $125 million represents a major economic impact of over $287 million to the Northeast Texas region. In FY 2009, scientists in the Center for Biomedical Research were awarded 80 competitive grants and contracts totaling $14.6 million. As the academic medical center for Northeast Texas, its graduate medical education program – with residencies in family medicine and occupational medicine – provide doctors for many communities throughout the region and beyond.

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