by Jason P. Smith
Starting out as a nurse in 1980, Gabriela Stevens, BSN, moved out to the Denver area with her family.
She worked for a number of years in a variety of areas within nursing, but finally found a love for the PACU – little did she know that interest would lead to a successful business for her down the road.
Finding a specific need in the profession for skilled nurses, Stevens started Strictly Surgical, a staffing company that works exclusively with nurses who have experience working on surgical units, such as the PACU, pre-op, OR, recovery room and 24-hour observation working in the ambulatory setting.
This idea for her business came after working for several years in many different areas of nursing.
"I basically spent most of my time raising kids and working one day a week," Stevens said of her early career working PRN shifts in the area. "I think I found my niche when I was working the float pool in a hospital – I worked in every area, but once I landed in the PACU I found I really liked the environment."
Stevens said she also found the work she did on that unit worked well in a part-time setting.
"I felt it was really conducive to part-time work because you don’t have to follow a patient for 12 hours like in ICU or labor and delivery," she said.
"Even if someone comes in for a part-time shift in the PACU, you can still take care of that patient from beginning to end of his or her PACU stay, so I found that to be really helpful with my schedule. I also really enjoyed the clinical challenges."
Although she enjoyed her work, Stevens said she was feeling the need to push herself further with her career.
"I felt I was getting too comfortable cruising along working PRN shifts in hospitals and that I needed to become more alert," she said.
"By working agency, I found that I had to wake up more and not be quite so used to the job I was doing.
"I was working for an agency for about a year and found that a lot of the facilities they sent me to would call me back personally," Stevens said.
"So, I was curious as to why they found the need to call me if they could have just called the agency, since that’s the traditional way of doing things.
"The managers expressed to me that they were all very frustrated with the fact that a lot of the agencies were sending them people who were ‘mirror foggers.’ Just because the people had the credentials and the license doesn’t mean they have the skills to work in a specialty care area."
It was from these conversations with managers that Stevens found yet another way to challenge herself and take her career to another level.
"The longer I worked, which was a number of months, I found that this frustration among managers was a common trend around town," Stevens said.
"They were tired of getting just a body instead of a competent person who could hit the ground running. They appreciate when you can jump in and know what you’re doing and they don’t have to orient you.
"As a result, I started conducting interviews. Asking the question of if there were an agency that would address this specific need, would you utilize it?
"I thought it might be too easy to be true, but it’s worked. I’ve been hammered with requests since I started up and basically hit the ground running. I’m very nurse-oriented. I’ve been a nurse for 25 years and I used my intuition and experience as a nurse to make this work."
The idea of specialized nurses for specialized care was an idea that has taken off with Stevens.
"It’s been fun because it’s proven to me that my hunch that specialty care work is actually desired is true," she said.
Although she has a business to run, she still jumps in whenever she’s needed.
"It’s me on the line – I really am accountable," she said.
"If someone can’t show up, I will roll up my sleeves and go to work – I’ve even gone in to work as a CNA or an EMT, because I wanted (my clients) to know that I was good for it."
With nearly four years under her belt with Strictly Surgical, Stevens said she thinks that there are other specialty areas in the hospital where this could be effective.
"I’m sure there are things that I have not done as efficiently as a large agency, but I believe that’s something that can be acquired," she said.
"I believe that my idea is correct and I’ve proven in the last several years that there is a need for specialty care nurses. Agencies can’t be department stores anymore," she said.
"The Sears, JCPenny and Montgomery Ward stores have suffered over the years because of the Banana Republics, the Gap and Victoria’s Secrets.
"This is also true in the nursing field. People have very specific needs and ideas about what they want."
One of the things Stevens said she tries to do with her company is also to give older nurses, who might be burned out with the hours and the work, a way to still work as a nurse.
"Why lose these older, very gifted nurses because they’re burned out?" Stevens asked rhetorically.
"I’ve brought several nurses out of retirement by offering better hours and work in specialty areas.
"That freedom to say yes or no to work goes a long way. My retention rate is very high. By doing this you can help keep people in the workforce who might not be able to stay otherwise."
According to Stevens, this is good way to teach new nurses.
"Nurses tend to kind of eat their young, so to speak, but I think by taking these people back in who are so seasoned really blesses the younger generation."
Stevens also is looking into working on an international level as well and organizing mission work in places such as Cambodia and Vietnam.
"Work over there is invigorating," she said.
"Every nurse who goes over there, working side by side with the medical professionals over there, is very rewarding.
"I like the adventure and the freedom this affords me. I also enjoy taking what I love and making a business with it and having a mission. I’m challenged all the time – and that’s my end reward."