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Nursing Alumna Helps Save Lives With Sepsis Work

Joseph F. SheleyCSU Stanislaus nursing alumna Marny Fern learned firsthand how quickly sepsis can overtake a patient. Fern, then a master’s degree student, was working as a nurse at Doctors Medical Center (DMC) in Modesto when a patient arrived with decreased blood pressure and low heart rate. The patient died of septic shock within hours.

Fern’s experience inspired her master’s thesis on sepsis recognition, and she has since devised and helped implement a simple checklist for DMC’s emergency and intensive care nurses to quickly screen patients and determine the risk of septic shock.

Sepsis, which claims the lives of 258,000 Americans every year, is essentially a body’s toxic response to an infection. Its symptoms are so common and often understated that it can often defy detection, but as Fern discovered, sepsis can have dire and rapid effects.

“With sepsis, early recognition and treatment is key,” Fern said. “We have armed our health care workers with a greater ability to recognize patients presenting in the early stages of sepsis.”

A Turlock native, Fern earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at CSU Stanislaus and worked as a lecturer and clinical instructor. She began at DMC as a nurse in 1999 and became the center’s emergency department and professional development educator in 2010.

Fern helped implement the new sepsis screening protocol in 2011 and earned her master’s that same year, and she was recently promoted to director of a new specialized care unit. Her sepsis work was widely recognized, and she was invited to speak at the Emergency Nurses Association’s national conference in San Diego and the Western Institute of Nursing Research conference in Las Vegas.

In September, Fern spoke before the CSU Board of Trustees as a guest of the CSU Alumni Council. The council selects one CSU graduate to speak during its report to the board at each meeting. Fern spoke about her experience at CSU Stanislaus and how it helped prepare her for her career.

At CSU Stanislaus, Fern benefited greatly from the mentorship of Peggy Hodge, then chair of the nursing department, and Professor Carolyn Martin. In addition to their experience and guidance, Fern said she learned a lot from Hodge’s skill as a presenter and lecturer and Martin’s ability as a writer.

Developing those skills has allowed Fern to thrive in her continuing education and in spreading the word about her important work on sepsis.

“If your hospital is doing great work but not publicizing it, you’re only benefiting that small population that you impact,” she said. “In nursing, we’re not doing clinical, controlled trials, so we don’t tend to publish our work, yet what we’re doing is impacting patient care. Others can benefit from the lessons we’ve learned.”
Updated: 12/05/2013
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