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Spotlight: Michael Petty reflects on more than three decades of nursing at University of Minnesota Health

University of Minnesota Health Clinical Nurse Specialist Michael Petty discusses quality of life for patients, current health research and his patient care philosophy.
Clinical Nurse Specialist Michael Petty has worked in nursing for more then three decades. Now, he is focused on advanced heart failure, heart transplantation and related issues.

When Michael Petty, PhD, RN, APRN-CNS, started his career as a nurse more than three decades ago, open heart surgery patients could expect to spend two to three weeks in the hospital. Now, thanks to medical advances, many can go home in half that time.

That’s just one of many changes Petty, a University of Minnesota Health cardiothoracic clinical nurse specialist, has witnessed in his long career. Petty is a recipient of the American Heart Association’s 2015 Heart and Stroke Hero Award for Medical Professionals. His focus includes advanced heart failure care and quality of life for patients and their caregivers.

We spoke with him to learn more about his new research project, the rapidly changing nature of medicine and health science and his approach to patient care.

Describe your role within the University of Minnesota Health. What interests, skills and experience do you bring to patient care? 

My roles over the years at University of Minnesota Health have included: staff nurse, charge nurse, staff development specialist, head nurse, nurse clinician, inpatient cardiac surgery coordinator, inpatient thoracic transplant coordinator and LVAD coordinator—as well as my current role as a clinical nurse specialist. My knowledge and experience caring for patients with heart and lung disease—and my ability to work with teams to achieve positive outcomes for patients—are key contributions I bring to my role and to the organization.

You have served as a medical professional for University of Minnesota Health for more than three decades. In what ways have healthcare delivery and your work in this field changed over time?

When I started in nursing in the Surgical ICU, an open heart surgery patient could expect to spend two to three weeks in the hospital, and at least five or six of those days in the ICU. Because of major advancements in health science and the development of new innovations, many patients now can expect to be home in half that time. Mechanical circulatory support using an implantable left ventricular assist device (LVAD) was only a laboratory concept at the start of my nursing career. Today, we have more than 130 heart failure patients living at home with these devices. We are always learning something new, and I find it fascinating.

Learn more about University of Minnesota Health Heart Care services.

Describe your current research into quality of life standards for heart transplant and mechanical circulatory support patients.

I’m currently involved in the SUSTAIN-IT clinical trial. The goal of the trial is to better understand the quality of life of older patients (ages 60-80) who have either undergone a heart transplant or have received a permanent mechanical circulatory support device in place of a transplant, as well as the quality of life experienced by their primary family caregiver. Funded by the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, this five-year study will compare quality of life between these two groups, so that we can help future patients choose which path may be a better treatment choice for their advanced heart failure needs. University of Minnesota Health is one of 11 centers across the United States participating in the trial. 

Knowing that your job revolves around patient care, how would you define quality of life?

I think the most important definition of quality of life comes from each individual that I encounter. I have met patients who believe that simply being alive is an adequate quality of life, even if they have to stay in the hospital for extended periods of time. Others have told me that if they can’t participate in the life activities that they value—like going fishing, swimming, traveling or spending active time with family and friends—then quality has been lost. As a result, I meet patients who choose not to undergo procedures offered, or others who go to great lengths to ensure that any medical interventions do not interfere with their goals.

How do you encourage patients to become active participants in their care? 

Many years ago, Florence Nightingale wrote that the role of nursing is to “put the patient in the best condition for nature to act upon him.” Part of the way we can accomplish that is by taking time to understand the patient’s goals, instead of making assumptions grounded in our personal perspectives. Once we understand a patient’s goals, we can help that person identify the steps he or she must take to achieve them. Providing people with proper tools and ensuring they understand the link between effort and outcomes are key. I find that breaking down goals into achievable, “bite-sized” pieces is most rewarding for both patients and me.