Sara Kowalewski

Sara Kowalewski

Sara Kowalewski


Clinical Nurse III
Medical Intensive Care Unit DMP 8 West
Duke University Hospital


Ernestine Davis & Edward L. Cole Award for Excellence in MICU Nursing


Sara graduated from Watts School of Nursing in 2010, and began working on the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Duke University Hospital just three months later.  During the height of the pandemic, Sara was a leader in creating the Patient Care Charge role in the MICU.  On a 32-bed ICU, it is difficult for one Charge Nurse to cover the entire unit.  The PCC is dedicated to supporting new nurses, Travel Nurses and those who float to the unit, and to be the extra hands, when critically ill patients need 2:1 nursing care.  The PCC role enabled the MICU to open all beds, while maintaining safe and quality patient care.  As PCC and Charge Nurse, Sara supports her team and ensures the MICU runs smoothly.


She presents clear examples of integrity each day in the MICU.  She not only does the right thing when no one is watching, but consistently inspires others to do the right thing.  Her integrity allows for trust not only from the patients, but also as a mentor and preceptor in the MICU.  Being a Charge Nurse in a 32-bed ICU comes with significant challenges and requires one to be honest, approachable and accountable.  As Charge Nurse on the weekends, she provides staff guidance, support during critical situations, and appropriately adjusts staff assignments, as needed, based on acuity.  As a new nurse, I had admitted a patient who developed bleeding overnight and now needed the ICU.  During this experience, she gave me honest feedback and realistic advice about what I could do to help achieve the best possible outcome for this patient.  Because of her own integrity, she helped me recognize my own strengths and weaknesses as a nurse and has helped me continue to grow professionally each day.


She has been a virtual participant in the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses’ (AACN) National Teaching Institute for two years and continues to bring evidence-based practice quality improvement to the MICU.  She maintains her specialty certification as critical care registered nurse (CCRN) and has continued to advance on the Career Ladder, currently holding a CNIII title.  She is also a current member of the AACN.  She also serves on the MICU Scheduling Committee and continuously works with staff to ensure flexible scheduling to meet their needs outside of work.  She is an active member of the Preceptor Committee and works to ensure both preceptor and orientee needs are being met and that both parties feel supported by the MICU team.  She continues to work on ways to improve the orientation process and is committed to ensuring new nurses receive the education they need to be confident in providing safe patient care.


She continues to research and implement innovative ways to make the MICU safer for patients and staff.  She has submitted an NTI poster on the role of Patient Care Charge (PCC) for the MICU and was a leader in its creation.  The PCC role has transformed the MICU.  As a 32-bed ICU, it is difficult for one Charge Nurse to cover the entire unit and serve as a resource to those who need it. The PCC takes on the role of serving as resource for new nurses on the unit and travelers, and as extra hands for those critically ill patients who need 2:1 nursing care.  The role of PCC has allowed the MICU to open all 32 beds on the unit, while maintaining safe and quality patient care.  As champion of the PCC role, she takes pride in her days as PCC and continues to help nurses grow in their critical care skills. As PCC and Charge Nurse, she provides support to her interdisciplinary team members and ensures the unit runs smoothly.

She is an active member of the Peer Support Program offered through Duke Health.  This program offers resources to Duke staff that may be struggling with stressors in their personal or professional life.  With previous experience as a school counselor, she maintains the ability to help colleagues work through challenging events with the utmost confidentiality.


She works diligently with the interdisciplinary teams to create the best patient outcomes.  She believes that, as bedside nurses, we are the last-stop advocates for our critically ill patients.  She works every shift to ensure her patient is receiving the highest quality care, and continuously re-evaluates patient care orders for relevancy and efficiency.  She provides patient care to patients and their families with compassion and empathy, while maintaining safety and quality. With over a decade of bedside nursing experience on the MICU, she works diligently with the attendings, fellows, residents and Advanced Practice Providers to ensure patient care goals are being met.  Her expertise and knowledge of the MICU patient population is a huge asset to the team and continues to prove invaluable when providing care to critically ill patients.


She goes above and beyond for patients.  It is not uncommon to see her with the Environmental Services (EVS) cart in front of her room and to find her cleaning her patient’s room.  She understands the demands of the EVS team and is happy to help provide a clean space for her patients.  She provides holistic care, acknowledging that bedside care extends beyond medication passes and vital sign monitoring.  She empathizes with her patients who are ill enough to land in the ICU, and ensures their dignity is maintained.  After ensuring the patient is stable, she will oftentimes wash their hair and make sure it does not end up in those ICU bed knots.  She will paint her patient’s nails, if they so desire, and spend time with them on days they do not have visitors.

Years ago, she cared for a patient who was at the end of life, and about ten years later, the same family returned to the unit for a different family member.  They remembered her instantly and praised her ability to provide compassionate presence, preserve dignity, and facilitate an environment that was comfortable for grieving and questions regarding end-of-life care.


With over a decade in critical care nursing, she continues to embody safe, quality and compassionate care for patients and their families, working diligently with interprofessional teams to advocate for patient needs, while inspiring, supporting and educating nurses to do the same.


Friends of Nursing Gala 2021

Friends of Nursing Gala 2021

Friends of Nursing Gala 2021