Nurse Transforms Lessons Learned from Personal Tragedy Into Public Good

Dr. Kelly Willenberg, Kelly Willenberg & Associates

Dr. Kelly Willenberg, Kelly Willenberg & Associates

Dr. Kelly Willenberg was in her car when she received the terrible call from the emergency room. “My husband had been biking to work and was hit by a car,” she said. The injuries were serious: a broken back, broken neck, broken pelvis, broken jaw, and a significant head injury.

She rushed to the hospital. He died 20 hours after the accident, never regaining consciousness, on June 30, 2017.

In some ways, however, Willenberg’s ordeal was just beginning. While she understood—then and now—that healthcare professionals were only doing their jobs under the duress of an emergency situation, she learned more than she ever wanted to learn about being on the “other side of the checklist,” as she put it.

As a nurse and compliance professional, Willenberg holds DBA, RN, CCRP, CHC, and CHRC degrees and designations, and is manager of Kelly Willenberg & Associates. She brings a wealth of knowledge to her upcoming ACRP 2018 session, Compliance from the Inside: How My Husband’s Untimely Death Taught Me the Real World of Compliance.

ACRP 2018

Willenberg is sharing her painful experiences with ACRP 2018 attendees for a laudable reason. “My goal for this session is to share from a real-life perspective some of the healthcare compliance issues that people are faced with in a tragedy,” she said, “and to bring people’s attention the fact that when you’re on the other side, it’s totally different.”

Willenberg applauds clinical trial practitioners, but offers words of caution. “I think a lot of people who do clinical research are sometimes so removed” from the day-to-day operations that they can forget about the human factor when confronted with a fast-moving crisis, she said. “There was a lot of stress from my perspective that could have been prevented” by healthcare professionals displaying a more delicate personal touch.

During the terrible ordeal, for example, one person came into the room with a checklist and somewhat mechanically asked for the information needed for consent to donate Willenberg’s husband’s organs. This person did not demonstrate compassion or empathy, she said.

The same problem often occurs in other areas of clinical research, Willenberg said. “Unfortunately, in research…[more often] than not, it is people with checklists, people that are task-oriented” who fail to conduct themselves as if they are talking to a human being who might be living in dire circumstances, she noted. “I think sometimes there’s little recognition” of what the participant is going through, she added.

Willenberg hopes healthcare professionals will learn to “step back, and look up from the checklist, and be aware of what’s around you.” After all, patients are not statistics. “They’re people just like you and me,” she said.

Author: Michael Causey