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It’s August 2022 and Brenda Ashley, Optimum’s EVP of EHR Delivery, is onsite with a health system preparing for its Epic Go-Live. At the moment, Ashley’s walking the ER department with the charge nurse, the Epic director, and an ASAP analyst. She’s making “rounds” at the hospital, which she’s done hundreds of times, not just as a consultant but also as a clinician. The group stops in front of a glass window and observes a doctor speaking with a patient. The doctor folds her arms and leans closer to the patient, nodding. It’s clear to all: she’s really listening and her clinical experience will be an asset in healthcare IT leadership.

The charge nurse and the Epic director exchange an anxious look: will this provider know what to do on Day One of Epic? Ashley reassures them. She turns to the Epic director and says, “Is that doctor most focused on the patient? As we prepare, that has to be the number one priority. If everyone has that mindset, what would I want for my loved one getting this care?, well then, it’s simple: we’re going to be really successful.”

Later, Ashley continues her preparation with the client in a conference room at the hospital. Together, they evaluate the readiness assessments for Go-Live and identify super users across the organization. Ashley has been working with the client for months now, previously on its implementation and now on the Go-Live. Speaking to the entirety of the EHR journey, she says, “If you had a project team, and you staffed it with only IT people, it would get live on time. But, it wouldn’t function well for a clinician. If you only let clinicians build, it would never go live.” The room chuckles and nods in agreement. “When Optimum supports a project, we think about the patient’s safety, the clinician, and the number of clicks, and in combination making sure we put out a really functioning system. Now, let’s identify those super users.”

But one must ask, how do the worlds of IT and healthcare converge? Well, for that answer, we must travel back in time … let’s meet Brenda Ashley.

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It’s 1999. Nursing schools around the nation have long waiting lists for aspiring clinicians. Brenda Ashley, a recent high school graduate is eager to start her career and unwilling to wait. The young Ashley completes a one-year medical assistant degree and begins her first professional job as a phlebotomist. She works with patient blood samples in ambulatory and hospital settings for nearly a year before accepting a clinical assistant role at the same clinic. It’s here where Ashley sees the inner and outer workings of a healthcare setting, navigating the demands of both the clinic and the back office.

Then comes Epic. Her clinic implements the EHR, and all fingers point to Ashley: with her clinical experience, can she train the organization? Ashley accepts the challenge and discovers a new talent. She’s really good at supporting Go-Live and training, and the clinic successfully goes live with Epic.

Eventually, a two-year nursing program calls Ashley’s name. Later in life, she’ll joke: “Two-year nurses and four-year nurses take the same boards, but in the two-year programs, the schools just cram four years’ worth of education in a shorter timeframe!” During school, she receives an assignment that helps determine her philosophy on paper versus electronic charting. She’s tasked with making the complex simple: create her brain on paper.

She devises a system that accounts for every thought, patient, and task that enters her stream of consciousness. And when she passes her boards and returns to the clinic as an RN, and even shortly thereafter when she completes the four-year degree as a BSN, she uses that “brain on paper” to manage patient care. It’s clear why nurses panic when moving from paper to electronic systems: they are asked to put away their brains.

Ashley discovers her passion for helping people is more non-traditional than standard nursing. She faces a difficult decision: Should she leave the field to pursue Epic training after so much hard work to earn a nursing degree? Would she lose her nursing skills?

Fast-forward through Ashley’s career, and you’ll discover that her answer to leave traditional nursing for something less traditional is a journey riddled with success stories. She finds ease in creating natural relationships with providers based on respect and trust. She reflects, “Not a lot of people understand the pressures nurses face, and it has really shaped how I’ve developed and consequently teach nursing informatics.” Ashley discovers that through a shared relationship, she helps clinicians learn how best to use healthcare technology in a way that supports health systems with accountability and oversight.

The transition into leadership at Optimum is a seamless one for Ashley. By default, nurses are empathetic people, and Ashley prioritizes her team members and their well-being. “People matter,” she says. “You know, my nursing degree gave me everything I needed to pass my boards. And my bachelor’s degree, that taught me management. But to be a leader, you really have to have empathy and clinical experience.” For Ashley, that empathy comes from her earliest career days working directly with patients. And the nursing field teaches limitations – a patient’s life might depend on it. “You have to reach out and ask for help and learn to delegate tasks. It’s imperative. You can’t just say yes to everything, and in the process, you learn to ask someone else who can possibly do a better job.”

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It’s just a few months after that initial client visit with Ashley, and the health system is nearing Go-Live. The moment the new system is turned on represents months, even years, of hard preparation. For Ashley, though, it’s the entirety of her journey that influences how she now advises clients as their trusted partner. Her clinical foundation as a nurse fundamentally shapes her leadership style within her own team and with clients. And that’s how two worlds – healthcare and IT- converge into a delivery that’s IT-driven, healthcare-focused, but ultimately patient-centric.

Are you preparing for implementation, training, or go-live for your EHR? Select a leader with empathy, clinical experience, and IT knowledge, and your EHR journey will be a smooth one. Want more strategic advice and partnership with Brenda Ashley? Reach out to our team or your sales associate for details on how Ashley brings both sides of healthcare and IT together for patient success.

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