OHSU School of Nursing 2023 Distinguished Alumna Award winner Amy Corcoran, B.S.N. ’05, pushes herself toward excellence, consistently looking for processes to improve the quality of care provided by OHSU’s Cardiovascular Intermediate Care Unit.
She even thought about improving patient care when she took maternity leave.
As she lay in her hospital room recovering from the birth of her first child, she and her husband were told they could not be discharged until they attended an in-patient hospital class for new parents.
“The last thing I wanted to do was to get out of my bed, go down the hall and talk to a bunch of other new moms in this class,” Corcoran says. “But the minute the class started, I felt so supported.”
“OHSU is such an amazing teaching institution. That partnership between School of Nursing and the units is so strong and so valuable.”Amy Corcoran
Other new mothers in the class asked questions she hadn’t thought to ask, and Corcoran realized how much she had yet to learn. She felt a powerful connection to this community of new parents and realized that a mandatory class for heart failure patients might offer similar opportunities for support.
Inspired by the parenting class, Corcoran designed and launched Heart Failure University in 2013. Adults who had suffered heart failure and their caregivers were required to attend these classes in person while still in the hospital. The classes provided them with tools to improve self-care and quality of life. Corcoran was gratified to see patients lead discussions, ask questions and offer each other advice. Patients often met outside of class, walking together in hospital hallways. Many remained friends after they were discharged.
“It was such a unique thing that we had done at that time and patients loved it,” Corcoran says.
With the onset of COVID-19, Corcoran joined the cardiac care nursing team in transitioning Heart Failure University online. As the instructor, Corcoran was challenged to find ways to keep patients engaged. This version of the class was also successful, however, and helped Corcoran see the benefit of using different modalities of support for heart failure patients. Now that the worst of the pandemic has passed, she is excited to join her team in redesigning Heart Failure University once again this fall.
On a national level, Corcoran sits on the board of directors of the American Association of Heart Failure Nurses, designing and leading learning activities for nurses to improve their knowledge of heart failure. She is also a committee member of an outreach program of OHSU called the Community Impact Project, as well as the Oregon chapter of the American Heart Association. Through this partnership, the two organizations created an online hub, a one-stop home page where patients can get information about everything having to do with heart failure and rehabilitation.
In addition to the online hub, the Community Impact Project launched community education programs. Prior to COVID-19, Corcoran joined other health care providers in panel presentations, sharing information and answering questions about heart failure with community members.
Corcoran enjoys additional opportunities to educate when OHSU School of Nursing students spend a six-week acute care rotation with the cardiac unit.
“Every time we see the green scrubs on the unit, it just makes me so happy,” Corcoran says.
She especially enjoys working with nursing leadership students and confirms that the cardiac care unit frequently hires OHSU nursing students after they graduate.
“My vision is to support those nurses at the bedside role, empowering them to make changes – to do quality improvement, to join national associations, to get their certifications, to partake in research projects.”Amy Corcoran
In her role as transition to practice coordinator for the unit, she finds it rewarding to help new hires shift from student to working nurse.
“I love being supportive and helping them work through a scary process,” Corcoran says.
She takes her cue to welcome, support and inspire students and newly graduated nurses from one of her own mentors, Abby Laughlin, RN, M.S. ’01.
When she was a nursing student, Corcoran remembers feeling threatened by her pending rotation on the cardiac floor at OHSU. Laughlin was a faculty member in the cardiac unit and taught students how to read EKGs and 12-lead electrocardiograms.
“Abby was so inspirational. She took the scariness out of it,” Corcoran says. “She made it fun and easy to understand. I always tell her that I started my career in cardiac because of her.”
Eighteen years later, Corcoran is still thankful for Laughlin and for all of the nurses who she says inspired her to work to the top of her license and scope in cardiac care at OHSU. Her goal now is to inspire other nurses to feel they have permission to make changes, particularly bedside nurses who she sees as the most overworked and in danger of burnout.
“My vision is to support those nurses at the bedside role, empowering them to make changes — to do quality improvement, to join national associations, to get their certifications, to partake in research projects,” Corcoran says. “Because that was so empowering for me.”
Corcoran says she is both humbled and somewhat embarrassed to receive the Distinguished Alumna Award. She adds that she feels inspired to continue to grow in her profession.
“OHSU did a great job of preparing me,” she says. “OHSU is such an amazing teaching institution. That partnership between School of Nursing and the units is so strong and so valuable. And I love nurturing that. I think that just makes OHSU so unique and special.”