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Heart & Vascular Spotlight
Emory Heart & Vascular nurse practitioner Ellen Schoen was always drawn to helping others
ellen schoen

Ellen Schoen, Nurse Practitioner for Emory Healthcare’s Advanced Heart Failure and Transplantation Team and Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) Coordinator, Emory University Hospital

 If you’re a patient visiting the new Heart & Vascular procedural area on the third and fourth floors (3T and 4T NORTH) of the Emory University Hospital Tower, chances are high that you’ll be impacted by the work of Ellen Schoen. As an Advanced Practice Provider with Emory Healthcare’s Heart Failure and Transplantation team, Schoen works with directly with patients make sure they get the exact kind of care that they need. She will be one of the veteran healthcare professionals working in the newly opened space. Ahead of the opening, we spoke with her to get her thoughts on this exciting new project. 

Emory: What do you do and how it will relate to these new, these new heart and vascular spaces?

Ellen Schoen: I am a nurse practitioner with the Advanced Heart Failure LVAD and heart transplant team. I have been with the team since 2018 and have been in this role since 2021. Of the new Tower spaces, the one I know best, and where I see patients, is 4T. This unit opened a lot of bed availability and has allowed for further growth of the program.

Even the physical space of 4T is so much just lighter, brighter, more airy, and more pleasant to be in. Our post-LVAD patients and our post-heart transplant patients can recover comfortably there prior to their transition to the cardiac step-down unit where they continue therapy and work towards getting stronger to ultimately go home.

Emory: You described the light, bright feel of these new spaces and I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about just how those qualities will impact your ability and your team's ability to do your jobs, while also improving the patient experience. What are the tangible effects of these space improvements?

Schoen: Well, I mean when you walk in, the windows are floor to ceiling. The rooms are bigger. There is more space within the room itself to move around. There's also more space for family to be with the patient. And natural light helps with things like ICU delirium where patients’ days and nights may otherwise get confused. Having that natural light is great for them.

As an example, we had one transplant patient who was in a room right with a view of the rooftop garden and the patient was sitting up in a chair just looking out the window at the skyline and was like, ‘I have my new heart and I'm looking at a beautiful view. What else could I ask for?’ It was wonderful that the patient was just super appreciative of the space itself, while simultaneously recognizing the gift they had been given with this heart transplant. For the patient to be able to be in a room that felt comfortable not only physically but also comforting to them mentally as well in the recovery process was beautiful.

Emory: That’s such a lovely story. Those floor to ceiling windows are pretty spectacular. And that's something that I think people may not have even thought about – that just being able to tell what time of day it is and having kind those cultural rhythms of waking up with sun and then the sunset can be helpful. So, thank you. Next question. What is your favorite part of your job?

Schoen: I see patients when they're sick in the ICU prior to either transplant or LVAD, or when they have just had their surgery.  Then I get the chance to see them afterward. So, I get to sort of follow a person from being at death’s door, essentially, to coming to see me in clinic and telling me all about their family or what trip they're planning or how they've gone back to work or school. It’s really cool to see that complete turnaround in a patient’s functional status. They go from laying in the bed, barely able to do anything, to living a life that may be modified but is close to a fully normal life again. That’s what I like most.

Emory: Nice. That brings me to my next question, which is what drew you to this field – both medicine in general and cardiovascular/heart failure and transplantation?

Schoen: Why did I become a nurse? This is dorky sounding, but I used to be a lifeguard in high school and my favorite part of that was just helping people feel better, even if it was just somebody, a kid or something, who fell and scraped their knee. Since a very young age, I was drawn to wanting to help others. Nursing fit this well because it’s both a science and an art. You’re able to support someone through an illness or surgery but you’re also there as a listening ear, a support for what they are going through.

When I went to Emory School of Nursing, I did my internship in the cardiac step down unit. And then I essentially stayed there after graduation for seven year as a bedside nurse and got the chance to work with LVADs, heart transplants, post cardiac surgery patients. I then moved into the VAD team and being more involved there as a coordinator. So, I guess I really loved it from the start. And the team has been super great. I feel like we have a cohesive group within advanced heart failure here, which I enjoy. Everyone is very supportive of each other.

Emory: What about the Emory Healthcare Emory ecosystem makes it stand out as a great place to work as a health care professional?

Schoen: There is something to be said about working in a place where patients will arrive at your location basically saying, ‘No one else was able to help me, can you please help?’ There are so many patients that arrive at Emory saying, ‘Oh, this other system told me I should be hospice.’ Or ‘they told me I should be on palliative care.’ And we're looking at the situation and saying instead, ‘No, actually, you have all these options we can try for you to live a longer life.’

There's something special about being in a center of innovation and research, where you’re providing the patient with all the possible options that are out there. I feel people are here at Emory because they feel passionate about providing evidence-based care. As Dr. Divya Gupta says, our goal is to provide hope. We are trying to get patients to that next birthday, that next anniversary or to spending holidays with their family.

Emory: If someone in your life needed heart and vascular care, what are the first couple things that you would want to make sure they know? What would you want to tell them?

Schoen: I would tell them to make sure they understand how the care or procedure they need will improve your quality of life and how will it change their lifestyle in any way. Our team asks our LVAD patients to change their lifestyle immensely. Any time you are asking patients to make that big of a change, you want to know what support they will have in place after surgery. You want to make sure they are well educated on the surgery itself but also how to take care of themselves afterwards and make sure they continue to improve their quality of life.

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