When Julie Choueiki worked as a trauma and critical care nurse in Columbus, Ohio, she saw the potential to foster an even more positive and productive environment for both employees and patients. She dreamed of being the one to drive that change within a unit someday.
With this goal in mind, she started taking on new leadership opportunities and went back to school to get her Master of Science in Nursing Administration. Soon, she became a clinical leader, and it wasn’t long before she was offered the opportunity she had been waiting for.
Marc Levitt, M.D., the director of Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s new colorectal center at the time, asked Julie if she would be interested in serving as the program manager for the center. Julie agreed, and the two worked closely together to build the colorectal program.
In 2019, however, Julie moved to Washington, D.C., to be closer to her family, and her relocation inspired Dr. Levitt to consider a new project. Dr. Levitt told Julie about the lack of established colorectal programs around the district and asked if she’d be interested in working with him and managing the Division of Colorectal & Pelvic Reconstruction at Children’s National Hospital. Julie agreed to take on the challenge. “I knew it would be a lot of work…but I also felt like I had a moral imperative to help these kids get the program that they needed and help them build such a program in D.C.”
“Julie came in as a program manager on a white horse and saved us,“ laughed Katie Worst, CPNP-AC. Katie currently serves as the advance practice provider team lead and has been a part of the colorectal program at Children’s National since the beginning. Previously, Katie had worked in the Bowel Management Clinic, and grew to love the patient population. “I started getting Christmas cards and birth announcements from patient families because you have an opportunity to impact their lives in such a way that you really do become part of their livelihood.”
So, when Katie was given the opportunity to help develop the new colorectal program as a nurse practitioner, she jumped on it. And once Dr. Levitt officially arrived, she witnessed immediate growth in the program.
“I think from the moment he walked in the door it was a whirlwind with the number of patients we were exponentially seeing every day. It was incredible to be a part of the planning for this group. We were able to onboard one person after the other to make magic happen and to help a lot of children,” Katie said. Today, the program encompasses colleagues from departments across the organization, including urology, gynecology and gastroenterology. Together, the team has provided care to more than 1,000 patients from all over the United States and from 15 different countries.
Ivon Martinez, who joined the program in Feb. 2021, says she’s also been amazed by the team’s rapid growth. Adding that the department’s new transition program is one of the most exciting developments.
The transition program is designed to provide continuity of care to children and young adults who eventually age out of the pediatric program at Children’s National. Erin Teeple, M.D., who recently joined the colorectal team, is cross trained in colorectal surgery for both children and adults. She spends half her time at Children’s National, and the other half of her time at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. So, when a patient at Children’s National turns 21 and no longer meets the program’s criteria, their family may feel some relief knowing that they can continue to see the same provider, even when they must transition hospitals.
“Having the transition program and that partnership with MedStar, I think that's going to be huge for all those young adolescent patients that we have now,” said Ivon.
Julie says there have been even more growths in the program regarding research and development. For example, in one research collaboration, Dr. Levitt can assist with surgeries in South Africa virtually by having the surgeon there wear glasses with a camera. Once those gasses are on and connected, Dr. Levitt can watch the procedure from his computer, write annotations that can be seen by the surgeon performing the operation and talk to them. She says innovations such as this allows Dr. Levitt to help more patients without physically having to travel.
Justine Gagnon, BSN, RN, CPN, a clinical nurse coordinator who has also been with the program since it’s early days, says that when she decided to join the team, she took a leap of faith into something groundbreaking that has truly made a difference in the lives of patients. Justine says the whole experience has been a learning process, and while the program continues to grow and adapt, she feels lucky she gets to witness the changes with a team that is so committed to their craft, to patients and to each other.
“Being able to see how our collaborative approach just really empowers the families, wraps them in love and makes them feel supported … It's incredible.”
Despite all the developments over last couple of years, that commitment to cooperation among the group is a characteristic that has not changed. “We're definitely all team players.” Says Ivon. “We all jump in to support each other no matter what…this team truly is like a family.”