Debra Klemme is on a mission to change her hospital’s nursing culture. She’s committed, she’s driven, she’s intense, and she credits OKWU with helping her get where she is today.
Klemme works as the Assistant Chief Nursing Officer at Largo Medical Center, in Largo Florida. It’s a taxing job – she says that some days begin at 6:30 and end after 10:00 PM – but to her, the value outweighs the trouble. She knows that she’s making an impact where she’s at. “It’s a lot of hours, but it’s going to be worth every minute,” she said.
Born in Rogers, Arkansas, Klemme knew that she was interested in nursing early on in her life. Her stepfather was diagnosed with cancer, and that sickness, along with the treatment that came along with it, had a profound impact on both Klemme and her sister. Both, at that time, decided that they wanted to be nurses. And both, for the record, still are.
“I love being a nurse. I want people to love nursing as I love nursing. It’s not just a job, and it’s not just a paycheck. It’s truly loving the patients that are in that bed and making them feel like they’re the only patient in the hospital. That’s my mission: to truly bring compassion back to bedside nursing.”
In 1986, Klemme moved from Arkansas to the Oklahoma City area, and in 1998, she started her medical career in neonatal intensive care. She worked her way up the professional ladder as much as she could, becoming a Director of Nursing around 2013. And, in 2015, she moved to Tulsa to work as Director of Nursing at Oklahoma State University Medical Center.
It was in this role that she discovered her need, and intense desire, for furthering her education. Klemme began to explore her educational options. “At that point, I was still an ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing), so that’s when I started my journey to my bachelor’s.”
She began taking online classes towards her BSN, but ultimately found it difficult. “That was not a real easy experience for somebody of my age to go back. Everything was just different,” she said. “It was a huge learning curve, going back to school.”
Eventually, though, she did complete the degree, and she knew that she didn’t want to stop there. She ultimately wanted to be able to influence change at a higher level in the industry, which would require climbing the ladder further. ““I just had a goal of being at the top. I wanted to find a hospital that I can make my own, with my philosophies of nursing.”
So Klemme began researching MSN programs, and one of her coworkers recommended that she look towards OKWU. “She was telling me how awesome it is, how it’s one night a week,” Klemme said. “I just continued to talk to her about it, because it really piqued my interest.”
And once she made the leap and began her OKWU education, Klemme found it much more focused and schedule-friendly than her BSN experience had been.
“Having that one night a week and a more streamlined direction… it was just better for me, and it fit my lifestyle,” she said. “I just really, really enjoyed my time at OKWU.”
It isn’t hard to identify what it was that set her time at OKWU apart: her cohort, through which she received encouragement, assistance, and friendship. “The best part was the group of girls I met,” Klemme said, noting that she still regularly keeps in touch with the group. “We just had that journey of growing together as individuals and in nursing. Life-long friendships.”
Now, at her job in Florida – where she’s still climbing the ladder, seeking to make a difference in the lives of patients and nurses at the highest levels of hospital administration – Klemme credits her time at OKWU as a huge lift in her journey. “I made some good connections with that program, and the professors were wonderful,” she said. “[They’re] so reachable, and they want you to succeed. They make it achievable; they get it.”
In her role as ACNO, Klemme is seeking to shift the focus of her nurses, moving them away from a task-oriented approach and into a more compassionate, patient-focused environment. “My priority is patient experience and making relationships,” she said.
She’s also passionate about assisting the nurses in her care, helping them to achieve their maximum potential. “My job is to make sure that the hurtles that they meet every day, that I can lower them, so they can advance over those hurtles easier,” she said. “It’s all about teamwork, and relationships.”
“I love being a nurse. I want people to love nursing as I love nursing. It’s not just a job, and it’s not just a paycheck. It’s truly loving the patients that are in that bed and making them feel like they’re the only patient in the hospital. That’s my mission: to truly bring compassion back to bedside nursing,” she said.
“I made some good connections with that program, and the professors were wonderful. They’re so reachable, and they want you to succeed. They make it achievable; they get it.”
For more information on OKWU’s MSN program, click here.