Melissa Reider-Demer would frequently check on her patients even when she was not on shift.
Heidi Eddy-Dorn, the mother of one of Reider-Demer’s patients, said she was impressed by Reider-Demer’s ability to be so empathetic while also being clinical and professional.
“I remember one time she came in jeans and (was) clearly on her way somewhere, (and she) goes, ‘I just wanted to check on her.’ I was so impressed by that combination of empathy and compassion and absolute profession,” she said. “Those things for her were not divorced.”
Reider-Demer, a nurse in the neurology department of the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center, received the national Nurse of the Year award in November from Press Ganey, a healthcare organization that seeks to improve the patient experience by focusing on patient-centered care.
The award aims to recognize nurses who show exceptional care to their patients, said Christy Dempsey, Press Ganey’s chief nursing officer.
“(Reider-Demer received this award) based on a series of transformational contributions that she had made to her department’s critical care and quality programs since her arrival in the neurology department,” Dempsey said.
Reider-Demer said she was shocked to receive the award.
“I was so thrilled that not only was my work being appreciated and noticed on a global level, but that there’s hope that my implementation can be used elsewhere,” Reider-Demer said.
As part of the neurology department, Reider-Demer has helped patients access urgent care more efficiently, streamlined the upload process for patient scans from outside providers and reduced the length of patient stays to save money for the hospital and the patient to allow more patients to get care.
Reider-Demer said people always ask her why she chose to be a nurse instead of going to medical school.
“In nursing you’re taught to look at the whole situation: the patient, the environment, the families, the whole thing,” Reider-Demer said. “I wanted the aspect of working and seeing everything, implementing the changes around the whole patient.”
Reider-Demer received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UCLA in 1996 and 1998 respectively, and has a doctorate in nursing practice. She has worked for different medical departments at UCLA, including the Stein Eye Institute and the department of neurosurgery. She has also worked in the neurology department of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Reider-Demer said her job at UCLA is fulfilling, despite the challenges that come with working in the medical field, such as treating patients in some of their worst moments.
“As much negative stuff that’s being thrown my way, there’s not a day that goes by that there isn’t someone or some mechanism that is showing appreciation for what I do,” Reider-Demer said. “A lot of times I think people don’t get that, and so I’m lucky that I do have that.”
Eddy-Dorn said Reider-Demer fosters strong connections with her patients and their families. Reider-Demer cared for Eddy-Dorn’s daughter when she was in a horseback-riding accident in 2016.
Eddy-Dorn said she thinks Reider-Demer is exceptional because she prioritizes building relationships with her patients.
“She knows her way around the hospital and she knows the people to call when the client needs something. Also she’s really, really smart,” Eddy-Dorn said. “She can answer a lot of questions about neurology.”
Eddy-Dorn said she was particularly struck by Reider-Demer’s ability to balance the responsibilities of her profession and her genuine care for her patients.
She added she and her family still speak with Reider-Demer on a regular basis, and often contacts her for advice.
“I think what’s gratifying is that you do something every day that is affecting somebody’s life in some aspect; that’s a very powerful thing to be able to do,” Reider-Demer said. “You’re literally making an impact on the person’s life or family and I take that very seriously.”
In the future, Reider-Demer said she hopes to take on more leadership roles in her profession.
“I think I have the energy and the insight to see what could be beneficial changes and I practice what I preach,” Reider-Demer said. “I think if I were to get more into a leadership role, it would serve many well.”
Reider-Demer said she thinks her creativity in nursing is what makes her unique.
“Nothing I’m doing is that special, I’m just someone that had the boldness to say, ‘I’m going to look at this a different way, and I’m going to try it and see what happens, and then go with it,’” Reider-Demer said.