Nursing Alumna Helps Save Lives With Sepsis Work

Nursing alumna Marny Fern (right) is helping to save lives with her work on sepsis recognition at Doctors Medical Center.Nursing alumna Marny Fern (right) helped create a simple checklist for nurses to more quickly recognize sepsis.

Sepsis claims the lives of 258,000 Americans every year, yet many have never heard of it. It is essentially a body's toxic response to an infection, and its symptoms are so common and often understated that sepsis can often defy detection — but when it strikes, it can kill a patient within hours.

CSU Stanislaus nursing alumna Marny Fern learned firsthand how quickly sepsis can overtake a patient. Fern, while a master's degree student, was working as a nurse at Doctors Medical Center (DMC) in Modesto when a patient arrived with decreased blood pressure and low heart rate. The patient died of septic shock within hours.

The experience inspired Fern's master's thesis on sepsis recognition, and she has since devised and helped implement a simple checklist for DMC's emergency and intensive care nurses to quickly screen patients and determine the risk of septic shock.

"With sepsis, early recognition and treatment is key," Fern said. "We have armed our health care workers with a greater ability to recognize patients presenting in the early stages of sepsis."

A Turlock native, Fern earned both her bachelor's and master's degrees at CSU Stanislaus and worked as a lecturer and clinical instructor. She began at DMC as a nurse in 1999 and became the center's emergency department and professional development educator in 2010.

Fern helped implement the new sepsis screening protocol in 2011 and earned her master's that same year, and she was recently promoted to director of a new specialized care unit. Her sepsis work was widely recognized, and she was invited to speak at the Emergency Nurses Association's national conference in San Diego and the Western Institute of Nursing Research conference in Las Vegas.

At CSU Stanislaus, Fern said she benefited greatly from the mentorship of Peggy Hodge, then chair of the nursing department, and Professor Carolyn Martin. In addition to their experience and guidance, Fern said she learned a lot from Hodge's skill as a presenter and lecturer and Martin's ability as a writer.

Developing those skills has allowed Fern to thrive in her continuing education and in spreading the word about her important work on sepsis.

"If your hospital is doing great work but not publicizing it, you're only benefiting that small population that you impact," she said. "In nursing, we're not doing clinical, controlled trials, so we don't tend to publish our work, yet what we're doing is impacting patient care. Others can benefit from the lessons we've learned."

While at Turlock High School, Fern considered taking advantage of a scholarship opportunity in Southern California. She decided to stay local after her grandmother suffered a stroke, and she couldn't be happier about the education she received at CSU Stanislaus.

Associate degrees in nursing are mostly task-oriented, Fern said. Working toward her bachelor's degree taught her about leadership and critical thinking. And at the master's level, she began to assess why things are done the way they are and researching how they could be done better.

Now in a leadership role at her facility, and having worked as an instructor on campus, Fern continues to be impressed with the nurses the university is producing.

"I'm extremely proud of the nurses coming out of CSU Stanislaus and working in our community," she said. "The caliber of nurses coming out of our program is phenomenal."