December 22, 2021

Nurse leader inspired to make lives better for the patient

Meet Dawn Vonderheide, winner of the Kaiser Permanente 2021 Excellence in Nursing Leadership Award.

Dawn Vonderheide, director of ambulatory clinical practice, at a COVID-19 testing clinic that she managed for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California.

In spring 2020, when the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit in California, Dawn Vonderheide, DNP, jumped into action.

Vonderheide is the director of ambulatory clinical practice and provides leadership for more than 100 managers and 2,000 staff members in 26 clinics across Southern California. Throughout the pandemic, Vonderheide led the ambulatory nursing clinical response and preparedness activities to provide effective and safe staffing workflows, provide personal protective equipment to keep staff safe, test patients, manage positive test results, and administer vaccinations. These are a few of the reasons she was chosen for the Kaiser Permanente 2021 Excellence in Nursing Leadership Award.

The award, one of the annual Kaiser Permanente National Nursing Excellence Awards, recognizes a registered nurse in a formal leadership position who demonstrates outstanding leadership resulting in improved patient outcomes.

Recent accomplishments

When COVID-19 tests became available, Vonderheide worked weekends and holidays to help set up and run testing sites while monitoring compliance at those sites. As the COVID-19 vaccine neared authorization for emergency use, Vonderheide collaborated with nurses and doctors to create emergency responses in case of any potentially life-threatening allergic reactions. Today, Vonderheide continues to lead and ensure quality and safety at our vaccination sites.

Beyond pandemic-related work, Vonderheide contributed to quality and safety by changing the practice of where nurses provide injections for certain types of shots. Traditional training dictated that shots requiring a larger fluid volume of medication, such as Ceftriaxone, an antibiotic, to be given in the upper part of the buttocks. However, research has shown that this region of the body doesn’t absorb the medication well and the shot process may cause damage to the tissues and nerves.

Vonderheide sponsored the education of nurses and physicians to administer certain shots in the side of the right hip or in the thigh as the safer alternative. Her work was presented to the American Academy of Ambulatory Nursing Care conference on April 13, 2021. 

Vonderheide explained what drives her.

Where do you find your inspiration and energy?

When I know we did what is right by the patient, that’s what makes me get up every day. I look at the patient being at the center of every decision. I want to make it so the patient can walk away cared for and safe. If we can teach patients how to eat better or take their medications better, they can have a better life.

How have you kept up your resilience during the pandemic?

It really comes down to making one thing happen at a time. And it will add up. You have to have the resolve to get through this by transforming and making a difference. It was exhausting and still is exhausting.

What type of self-care do you prioritize for yourself?

Choosing good foods, good rest, and exercise — just basic things — are important. I schedule it all in. I walk in the morning, ride my bike on the weekends, and spend time with my family. Schedule the important things first.

Watch Vonderheide and all our 2021 nurse excellence award winners discuss nursing and their award recognition.