Donna Riemer, RN
2013 APNA Award for Excellence in Practice - RN

Over twenty years ago, Donna Riemer had a revelation during her very first week as a nurse: “I was on rounds with the physician and a veteran charge nurse, giving flu shots to patients in a nursing home,” she remembers. “One patient kept saying that she did not want it and was scared. After arguing, the charge nurse told her not to be ‘a baby’ and ordered me to give the shot. I remained silent and gave her the shot. A few hours later we learned that she had passed. I was so consumed with guilt that that day I decided that I would quit nursing if this was what it was going to be like…then I thought, maybe I could make MY practice something different. I have not shut up since!”

As a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Consultant at the Bureau of Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery in the State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Riemer speaks to providers, consumers, and stakeholders about ways to integrate person-centered planning, recovery, sanctuary, and trauma informed care into their practices. She calls it her dream job. “I feel that we just can never do enough to help address violence and trauma prevention,” she says. “I’m very passionate about providing education to anyone who is interested in violence and trauma prevention.” She is certified as a Clinical Traumatologist and a Compassion Fatigue Specialist to help facilitate this effort.

It was partly the experience of working at a state hospital in Madison, Wisconsin that propelled Riemer’s work in violence and trauma prevention. “When I started out in forensic nursing, the violence and trauma was even more visible,” she recalls. “I saw trauma and symptoms in patients AND staff.” She is adamant that for staff to provide the best care possible, they must first take care of themselves. “There is a quote by Jean Clark that is very personal to me,” she says. “’People are best cared for by people who are cared for’.” Her unwavering vision at the state hospital forensic unit resulted in a reduction in violence and staff injuries, as well as an increase in the number of patients who were able to move to less restrictive settings.

Dr. Barb Carter, who nominated Riemer for the award, describes Riemer’s philosophy: “Donna’s vision is that as an RN-PMHN, she has a professional obligation to treat every interpersonal interaction with unconditional dignity and respect, horizontally and vertically, from the top down. This vision involves an ability to successfully collaborate within and outside her profession. Her goal is to teach other professionals the soft skills contributing to compassionate communication in order to achieve optimum clinical and intervention outcomes for patients, clients, students, families, and community populations.” In addition to her interactions on a daily basis, Riemer has furthered her vision through several published works, the use of the Sanctuary Model in a forensic setting, and promoting an Interdisciplinary Team Approach to facilitate recovery, to name a few. “My goal continues to be a simple one: to make a difference,” she says, “and I hope I have.”

What Riemer would like every new nurse to know:

  1. You can lead from anywhere in the organization: as direct care staff, in dietary, in laundry, as a nursing student, as a new nurse, or as a veteran.  Role model a leadership style that demonstrates a zero tolerance for the status quo!
  2. Being a nurse requires us to wear many different hats. We are to be leaders, teachers, communicators, collaborators, advocates, role models, and more. Nursing is not just about doing what you are told or ‘passing a pill.’ You will care for many patients, their families, and even staff who feel they have no voice. To bring recovery into your practice, you must use your voice in order to help them find theirs!
  3. Violence takes many forms. It is my belief that remaining passive, looking the other way, and remaining silent are the biggest forms of violence and WILL result in trauma to yourself and others around you.
  4. 'Do No Harm' includes self-care. Please don’t forget to care for yourself. Learn about vicarious trauma and be able to recognize symptoms. Know when to talk to someone. Give yourself permission to be as good to yourself as you are to your clients.  Thank you for all you do!


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