Jessi Kraft's work requires a unique set of skills. “First and foremost is to have good critical thinking skills and comfort with the autonomy to make key decisions about a patient.”
Jessi is a triage nurse at Fairview Northland Medical Center in Princeton, Minn. Triage nurses are the first health care provider that patients interact with in their trips to the emergency room. Jessi greets each incoming patient, working through a series of questions to understand their pain and discomfort and the severity of their medical needs.
The process—triage—needs to be completed in five to seven minutes, from the moment Jessi asks her first question to the time she assigns them a number from one to five, determining the urgency with which they need to be seen.
Triage nurses work alone, talking to incoming patients and their family members and ordering lab work and other tests needed to equip the care team to diagnose and treat. “A cardiac patient may need an electrocardiogram," Jessi says. "Someone in respiratory distress will likely need a nebulizer.”
During a busy shift, up to 10 people may be waiting for emergency care. Jessi makes rounds with each person, making sure their symptoms haven't changed—a task that requires sensitivity.
“My day-to-day is their worst day,” she says. “When someone comes in because they are experiencing chest pain, it could be a heart issue or it could be a pulled muscle. They don’t know. If they weren’t deeply worried, they wouldn't be in."
The experience is stressful not only for the patients, but also their family members. As a longtime resident of Princeton, Jessi sees members of her community come in the door.
“It’s an added pressure, because we have another relationship. But I always ask how they are and tell them I’m sorry to see them there. These are the people who played a part in shaping my personality, and who have influenced my career and the type of care I provide.” She adds, “The way I treat each patient has the power to determine whether their stay with us is a positive or negative experience.”
Once the patient has been admitted, their care is transferred to a group of providers, and Jessi’s work with that patient is complete.
“My work is fast-paced and unpredictable," she says. "I need to use all of the tools available to me each day—my training and education, my confidence and my compassion.”