Meet Tiffany Sheehan, PhD: Stroke Program Coordinator

If health care were a brick wall, Tiffany Sheehan says, nurses would be the mortar holding everything together.

But the impact nurses have on patients’ outcomes can be difficult to measure.

“As a nurse scientist, that’s my life’s mission,” Sheehan said, “to understand that within the stroke population.”

Sheehan is the stroke program coordinator at Barrow Neurological Institute. She came to the Institute three years ago from the University of Florida in Gainesville.

As coordinator, Sheehan leads and evaluates the care of patients with stroke and implements evidence-based standards and education programs to improve their outcomes.

Her work involves gathering data on patient care and identifying areas for improvement. She also reviews relevant literature and quality improvement standards set by organizations such as the Joint Commission.

She then brings together experts from different departments in an effort to align and standardize stroke care across the continuum.

Finding Her Nursing Niche

Sheehan always knew she wanted to work in health care. In high school, she had the opportunity to observe different health care workers through a student organization.

“I shadowed a nurse for a while and saw the teamwork between the nurses on the unit and just the care and compassion,” she said. “I knew immediately that’s what I wanted to do with my life.”

After earning her associate’s degree in nursing from Santa Fe College in Gainesville in 2005, Sheehan started her career at the bedside. While working as a bedside nurse in the neuro-ICU at the University of Florida, UFHealth Shands Hospital, she often saw nurses collecting samples from patients for clinical trials.

tiffany sheehan
Tiffany Sheehan, PhD, RN, SCRN, ASC-BC

“I was always so curious about research and why our practice was being carried out the way it was,” she said. “I thought, I would like to do that.”

She began working as a research coordinator, enrolling patients into clinical trials for stroke—including the pivotal SAMMPRIS trial in collaboration with Dr. Michael Waters, director of the Barrow Stroke Program. She also cared for patients throughout the trials. That’s when she realized her passion for the stroke population.

But she wanted to have a larger sphere of influence on stroke care. When the stroke program coordinator position opened up at UF Health Shands Hospital, she decided to apply—with support from Dr. Waters—and got the job.

Sheehan continued her nursing education, completing her bachelor’s degree at Santa Fe College in 2014. She then began pursuing her doctorate in Nursing Science with a concentration in health outcomes and policy at the University of Florida, studying how the delivery of care influences patient outcomes in aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage patients.

Tackling Challenges: ‘It’s the Climb’

When Dr. Waters joined the Barrow faculty as director of the Stroke Program, he and the stroke team recruited Sheehan for her skillset in helping to develop the Comprehensive Stroke Center at UF Health.

Sheehan has since helped the Barrow Stroke Program adopt the standards required to become a Comprehensive Stroke Center and apply for the certification. Awarded by the Joint Commission in collaboration with the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, the designation acknowledges an organization’s commitment to evaluating and evolving stroke care at every touchpoint across the care continuum.

Sheehan’s move to Phoenix meant leaving her hometown of Gainesville and committing to finishing the final two years of her doctorate program remotely.

Completing her PhD online while raising a family and working full time to develop a quality improvement certification program is the chapter of her career she takes the most pride in thus far.

She is tireless and dedicated to bringing together professionals from diverse fields and areas of expertise, organizing and motivating them with precision and vigor to ensure that the care we are providing our stroke patients is exemplary and second to none.

Michael Waters, MD, PhD, Director of Barrow Stroke Program

“I think I’m drawn to challenge,” she said. “The challenge is what’s most rewarding. It’s the climb.”

Sheehan has also relished the challenge of breaking down silos in health care by uniting experts from different disciplines around a singular goal.

“She is tireless and dedicated to bringing together professionals from diverse fields and areas of expertise, organizing and motivating them with precision and vigor to ensure that the care we are providing our stroke patients is exemplary and second to none,” Dr. Waters said. “We are privileged to have her.”

A “people person” by nature and a former college softball player, Sheehan feels at home on a team. Working with people is her favorite part of the job. She says the creativity, innovation, and can-do spirit of the Barrow stroke team set the program apart.

Nursing: Beyond the Bedside

Although she misses caring for patients at the bedside, Sheehan’s role enables her to lead the care of the entire population of stroke patients at Barrow—having that larger sphere of influence she envisioned.

“I think when people think of nursing, they think of direct patient care,” she said. “It’s important to note that nurses operationalize the hospital on a much larger scale. So it’s at the bedside; it’s at the unit level; it’s at the system level. Nurses are everywhere.”

Sheehan’s role also allows her to conduct her own research. She is specifically interested in how nurses’ delivery of care influences patients’ outcomes—a topic she feels receives too little attention in the research space.

Outside of work, Sheehan volunteers for stroke advocacy and education groups. She serves as a co-chair of the Arizona Stroke Coordinator Consortium and as a hospital representative of the Phoenix Stroke Work Group.

Use your voice, and work together as a team. We’re in this position of holding it all together.

Tiffany Sheehan, PhD, Stroke Program Coordinator

Sheehan encourages nurses to not be afraid to explore opportunities beyond the bedside, such as research, education, and administration.

And for nurses just beginning their careers, Sheehan reminds them that their ideas about improving patient care are valued. To speak up, advocate for their profession and, most importantly, their patients.

“Use your voice, and work together as a team,” she said. “We’re in this position of holding it all together.”

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