Eileen Keefe talks about nursing with a clarity of purpose that has captivated her since girlhood and nurtured a laser focus on the essential values of her career: communication, teamwork, and mentorship.
Armed with nursing degrees from Boston College and the University of New Hampshire, in 2020 Keefe earned a Doctorate of Nursing Practice through the UNH Online program, which enhanced her executive leadership skills. Eileen fills her role as Chief Nursing Officer at Parkland Medical Center in New Hampshire like a well-fitted suit that she wears with confidence, buoyed by her strong love of learning and extensive background in the field.
Keefe started out in nursing at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, moving through a variety of roles as an Educator, Supervisor, and Emergency Room Nurse. Relocating to New Hampshire, Eileen served Parkland as Vice President of Quality and Safety before stepping into her current position where she manages more than 200 nurses.
“I know every nurse in this hospital. There are very few layers between me and the patient so I can influence care in a direct and positive way.”
Inspired by her mother’s stories about her own career in nursing and raised to believe in education and community service, the art of leadership and building relationships was hard-wired at a young age. The support and encouragement from her husband and two daughters kept that passion alive and active through the years of balancing family needs with work demands and study hours. “None of this would have been possible without them.”
Keefe explains that the working landscape of those in the medical profession has been substantially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. As the new virus tracked a widening path across the globe, the key to establishing the hospital’s response was access to high-level, credible data and strong leadership.
“Our team went through the learning process together, reviewing incoming data to follow evidence-based practices and meet clear-cut deliverables. In the beginning, our leaders worked seven days a week, twelve hours a day to proactively prepare and manage our response to COVID-19 and to ensure our staff felt safe and supported.”
Keefe recognizes that maintaining good communication and trust is harder to achieve when wearing a face mask all day. But that barrier seems to melt away with stories of nurses returning on their days off to sit with patients unable to see their families due to strictly enforced limits on visitors.
Given that during the initial pandemic surge Parkland treated 20% of New Hampshire’s hospitalized patients, she is proud of her team’s performance. “Emerging from the worst of the pandemic in May, patients gave Parkland a five-star rating in online reviews.”
Discussing her education experiences, Keefe highlights the convenience of remote access to the rigorous DNP program offered through UNH Online. Inspired by Professor Gene Harkless, who awakened her to the “depth and richness” of the nursing profession, she enjoyed the self-paced curriculum that allowed her to integrate study with her work schedule while also building relationships with her student cohort. “I met students from different areas of the country and technology made it easy to build camaraderie.”
Turning to her professional goals, Keefe talks about the nurse leader’s role in facilitating the connections that support the patient’s “goals of care”. She believes that medical professionals who present clinical information to a patient-facing a medical decision should help explain their options within the context of the patient’s values and personal goals. Having served as a leader with the NH Hospice & Palliative Care Organization, Keefe came to realize that decisions about “the simplest thing - the most human thing - can sometimes be the hardest thing”.
Inspired by her role as a co-leader of the NH Action Coalition - a nationwide initiative designed to harness the power of nursing to help all Americans lead longer, healthier lives - Keefe muses about a future opportunity in education to pass on knowledge gained by years of experience. A warm, spontaneous smile reveals Eileen’s deep feelings about her career path.
“I love this hospital and I love growing nurse leaders. I am truly blessed to be able to do this work every day!”
Written by Gwendolyn Goguelet