Get to Know Barbara Sutton, APRN, ACHPN
Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner
Community Based Palliative Care
Ms. Sutton currently serves as Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner as part of Amita Health's Community Based Palliative Care program. She received her BS in Nursing from Northwestern University and both her Advanced Nurse Practitioner degree and her MS degree with a major in Nursing from North Park University. Along with her extensive nursing background and passion for helping patients in their homes, Ms. Sutton is passionate about rescuing animals (including the 3 dogs she currently has), and travel (including hiking, adventure travel, and volunteer travel). One of her most memorable trips was to Negril, Jamaica for an APRN model medical mission, with another one planned for 2019. She has two adult children and 2 granddogs. In addition to being an active AAHCM board member, Ms. Sutton currently serves on the Program Committee for the 2018 AAHCM Annual Meeting and Chairs the AAHCM Awards Committee. She was the recipient of the AAHCM 2013 House Call Clinician of the Year Award.
We recently spoke with Ms. Sutton.
What attracted you to the field of homecare medicine?
My father was an internist who made house calls and I began tagging along when I was four. I remember seeing widows who had minimized their lives into one or two rooms in their homes and bathed out of their sink.
While working for VNA during grad school, I took a temporary position at a hospital that had primary care house calls. It became full-time, and as the manager when the hospital system shut down the program, I helped to move the bulk of the patients and the APRNs to another organization to keep it going. It was the first year that Illinois recognized APRNS in the Nursing Practice Act, so we were able to change the program to have the APRNs see patients independently, bill for our visits, and have weekly team meetings with our collaborating physician.
There is nothing I have ever done that is as fulfilling as helping seriously ill people and their families cope with their new lives, to make their decisions, and to do it in their homes, where they are comfortable, and I am the guest. The only other care I have provided that is as fulfilling is volunteering overseas.
How has working in this field impacted your practice? What keeps you in the field?
There are so many vulnerable people and their families who struggle to get to the office, and struggle to be able to have their needs met in the rapid-fire pace of office visits. My transition to providing palliative care has been natural, as I find great personal and professional satisfaction in relieving suffering of all types, and helping people make the choices that are right for them. Being able to sit in someone's kitchen or bedroom, making sure they are comfortable, and talking about the decisions they face with a serious illness is so rewarding. I cannot prevent illness or death, but I can work to ensure that no one dies in pain, afraid, or alone. There is truly nothing as rewarding to me as helping people understand the gift they give their loved ones by talking about what they want and how they want to be treated.
I was out in the field on 9-11. Not every home I visited was watching the news that day, but I was reminded that it is not about me, but about them. And in the following days, when others were questioning their lives and jobs, I had no doubt that I was doing the right thing. I know that every day, I make a difference for someone, I make their lives a little better.
When I second guess myself and relive conversations to think of what I could have done better, it really makes me realize how important a strong team is, a team that I can ask clinical questions of, tell my fears to, and complain about the angry family to.
Why AAHCM? What drives your involvement?
AAHCM was the only professional organization that really recognized APRNS, PAs, and LCSWs who made house calls. And they had just changed their name from Physicians to Medicine! I decided I would push the organization to advocate for us as well as for physicians making house calls. IAH seemed like a natural place for the AAHCM to advocate for APRN scope of practice standardization. I know the AAHCM will step up involvement to advocate for appropriate legislation.
I am proud of being an APRN. As I come closer to the end of my career, I want to do two things: mentor new APRNs in home-based primary care or home-based palliative care, and to help my profession achieve the recognition and practice we deserve.
How did you start? What advice can you offer to a person considering volunteering with AAHCM?
I was nominated for the Clinician of the Year award, won it, and found that I was part of the Awards Committee. As the AAHCM is committed to board diversity, I could not say no when asked. All disciplines in home-based primary care need to have a voice for the well-being of patients and their families.
By demonstrating that we are really advocates, really working to advance ALL clinicians providing home-based primary care, more people from all disciplines will be interested in becoming involved. My advice to an APRN or PA or SW, just do it! We all must work together to better our profession.
To learn more about getting involved with the AAHCM, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.