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Published on September 23, 2020

Orthopedic Nurse Navigator Melissa McCullen Named to the 2020 Great 100 Nurses of North Carolina

Wayne UNC Health Care’s Orthopedic Nurse Navigator, Melissa McCullen

As an Orthopedic Nurse Navigator, the biggest challenge Melissa McCullen has faced in recent months due to COVID is less face-to-face interaction with patients.

“I’ve had to get a little creative sometimes,” said McCullen, who serves as an educator, guide and support for patients undergoing joint repair at Wayne UNC Health Care. “Our first interaction has always been over the phone, but then they would see me at the joint class, and we would develop that trust.”

With the arrival of COVID, McCullen’s had to step up her game. From moving patient education online to simply reaching out more regularly, she makes patients a priority by answering their questions, addressing their concerns and guiding them through preparing for and recovering from surgery.

For her commitment to patients and nursing excellence, McCullen has been named to the 2020 Great 100 Nurses of North Carolina. The grassroots organization recognizes nurses who demonstrate outstanding professional ability and make significant contributions to improving health care in their communities.

“I feel honored and humbled to be selected,” says McCullen, who began her career as a nursing assistant with Wayne UNC 24 years ago. With a background in both surgery and education, McCullen brings deep experience and compassion to her role.

McCullen’s nomination for Great 100 – submitted by a teammate – recounts story after story of ways in which the RN has gone above and beyond for her patients.

One patient wrote, “Assigning {this nurse to me} was an excellent move. She was very thorough, extremely personable and always professional. I never had to worry about her not following up on my calls, and she was always willing to see me if I needed to come in. I have only the highest accolades for the medical care I have received and continue to receive.”

The patients McCullen works with – those receiving elective hip, shoulder and knee replacements – are often fearful in the time leading up to surgery. “It’s major surgery,” said McCullen. “Many patients are worried about how much pain they will be in.”

As a Navigator, she is responsible for reaching out to these patients and serving as their pre- and post-operative point of contact for any questions or concerns they have. She performs medical screenings to identify comorbidities that may put them at increased risk. For those patients, she helps them schedule their specialist appointments.

McCullen leads education classes to help patients understand their procedure and what to expect. She visits them in the hospital when they have their surgery and keeps up with them after discharge to assist their progress and follow up.

“It’s important that we’re respectful of patients, that we’re considerate of their feelings and fears and that we’re compassionate,” said McCullen. “Our goal here is to provide quality patient care and have good outcomes. We want to make sure they get the best results from their surgery, so they can resume a more active lifestyle.”

McCullen’s focus on patient-centered care has helped turn around situations with patients who have had to lose weight or get their diabetes under control as a prequalification for surgery.

In having these difficult conversations, McCullen explains the rationale and helps patient understand that excess weight and diabetes can result in complications following surgery. She connects them with preoperative exercises and a referral to primary care to help them with meet their weight goals and manage their A1C.

In addition to supporting orthopedic patients, McCullen and Stroke Coordinator Sara Ginn has worked on behalf of the hospital to reduce nursing home patient readmissions to the hospital. This pilot project and the collaborative relationship she nurtured with a local nursing home earned then a People’s Choice Award.

She also leads a committee dedicated to decreasing the number of visits required for a patient must have before surgery. As part of this effort, McCullen led plans to introduce a new product that would be used by some orthopedic patients that would eliminate the need for one pre-op office visit.

In the community, McCullen serves as a youth leader for the high schoolers in her church, organizing their activities and hosting meetings for them at her house. Her team visits homebound elders who are no longer able to leave home to attend church, giving them prayer pillows.

McCullen participates in the Samaritan’s Purse Christmas shoebox donation to care for those in need in the community. She participates in the Live Nativity scene every year during the holidays, participates in Relay for Life and supports Salvation Army Angel Tree, United Way and Boy Scouts.

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