UVM Medical Center Employee Spotlight: Meet Nicole Dragoon, RN and Nurse Manager at UVMMC’s new Alternative Level of Care unit, Shepardson 3 North!
Published March 29, 2024

The UVM Health Network and UVM Medical Center are staffed with dedicated employees and compassionate leadership–all committed to the work they do and the care they are able to provide for our patients and the UVMHN community. Nicole Dragoon, RN and Nurse Manager, is no exception. Nicole is passionate about her role in leadership, as she has most recently volunteered her time to help open UVMMC’s new Alternative Level of Care unit, Shepardson 3 North. Nicole is an enthusiastic leader and mentor, and she is excited to continue building a dynamic team of RNs, LPNs, and LNAs on Shep 3 North. The Network was thrilled to speak with Nicole, as she candidly shared her experiences working at UVMMC, now running the new Shep 3 North floor.


How long have you been working at UVM Medical Center? What was your position when you first started?

NICOLE: I started in 2012 as an RN. I worked in hematology and oncology, and I worked nights for almost nine years. I got involved with our nursing professional governance as I was going back to get my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and through professional growth opportunities I found myself in a leadership position. I’ve been in leadership since March of 2019, and I started my leadership role as the Assistant Nurse Manager of Baird 3. Then in December 2021 I became manager. 


What initially made you want to become a nurse?

NICOLE: I had some major health issues growing up. I was really sick as a baby into my early childhood, so my family and I were in and out of the hospital frequently. In fact, the majority of my childhood was in and out of the hospital. For a long time I said I wanted to become a doctor, however I realized that most of the care I received and witnessed during my hospital stays were from the nurses. I spent a lot of my time with these incredible nurses, so ultimately I think that’s where my drive came from. In high school I volunteered with the VNA as part of my senior project, and that’s when I realized I wanted to continue pursuing nursing as a career. 


What is your current role?

NICOLE: Right now we’re opening a brand new Alternative Level of Care unit. We’ve seen a lot of barriers to discharging our elderly population back into our communities, so that is how this new Alternative Level of Care unit began as an idea, now coming to fruition. I volunteered my services to be the interim nurse manager over on Shepardson 3 North, or “Shep 3” – which is what we call the new unit – to help get it up and operationalized so we could begin hiring staff and start building a qualified team. So, as of now I am currently the Interim Nurse Manager of Shep 3 North, in addition to my management role on Baird 3 (Adult General Medicine/Telemetry).


Why did you choose to work at UVMMC over other healthcare facilities? What’s different or special about working there?

NICOLE: They are an academic learning institution and a level 1 trauma center, and that is the kind of environment I wanted to be in while gaining my experience. It’s also the only place around that has an inpatient oncology/hematology floor, and that’s what I wanted to pursue. The level of care is different here, and that is why I recently volunteered to help open Shep 3, because for the last 15+ years LPNs have not been working at the hospital, in the patient realm, at the bedside. Over the course of the last 3 years, we were actually able to pave the way to get the approval for LPNs to be back at the bedside, in the acute care setting. We currently have eight LPNs working in acute care on Baird 3, and because I know their scope of practice so well and the care model that comes with working alongside LPNs in acute care…that’s one of the main reasons I volunteered my time to help get Shep 3 North operationalized, because the care model will be just as distinguished and unique. Following that same model of care, LPNs will be at the bedside, providing care for patients on Shep 3 North the same way they do on Baird 3. 


What’s it like working at UVMMC? What does a typical day look like for you?

NICOLE: It’s a lot of daily operations, especially right now in terms of us staffing Shep 3 North. We need to ensure that we're placing people on the right teams, always considering the amount of staff for the number of patients on each floor. I work with HR when issues come up, having crucial conversations with people and holding our staff professionally accountable for their practice. We make sure that the patients are receiving the quality of care they need on a daily basis. We’re constantly updating employees with any changes in policies or procedures to keep everyone on the same page. A lot of the job revolves around communication with patients, staff and the interdisciplinary team. 


Is the new Alternative Level of Care unit at UVMMC, Shep 3 North, up and running already? Do you have any patients yet?

NICOLE: Yes, the new unit has been open for many weeks now. So far we have 20 traveling nurses and LNAs working on Shep 3. The team is a combination of one lead RN overseeing the care provided by the LPNs and LNAs. We are at full capacity with 20 patients on the floor. Right now we’re really focusing on recruiting for the RN, LPN and LNA positions.


How is the process of running Shep 3 North going so far? Are you enjoying it?

NICOLE: Yes. I mean, depending on the day things can get challenging. However I believe that applies for most jobs in any area of work, right? There’s a lot of different personalities involved. However, genuinely, yes. I love this job. It may sound silly, but my new year’s affirmation this year was to rediscover the joy in my job. Helping build Shep 3 North as a fully functional unit has really solidified that intention for me. It’s all very exciting. I’ve already been able to create a lot of changes in the past couple weeks, in order to prepare for intaking patients and hiring new staff as the unit continues to expand. We’re growing a team here, and in the process of recruiting I’ve also been working with the travelers and building a team with them as well. I want our people to know that whether you’re a staff member on one of our floors or if you’re a traveler, in either circumstance, it’s very important to me that they know once you are brought in and on board, that you are an essential part of the team, of our unit, and our culture. We want to make sure our people feel like they belong.


Could you provide an example or a story about the work culture?

NICOLE: Of course, in fact this one was recent. We had a traveler who started on the floor with us on Baird 3 many years ago, and she recently returned. We just hired her back in to work on Baird 3, full-time. She said her reason for coming back was because her time at UVMMC was the “only place that felt like home.” She was a traveling nurse for so many years, and she hadn’t been back with us since late 2019, but her experience with us was memorable enough to make her want to come back, full-time, years later. I think that is a true testament as to why we’re so passionate about what we do and our work culture.


What do you value most about the UVMMC work culture? Are you implementing any of those values as Shep 3 North continues to grow?

NICOLE: I think ultimately, for me, it’s all about the relationships I am able to build with our patients, and also those connections we make with one another as staff. We’re all human and we all have lives outside of here, and it’s really essential to remember those things, and it’s important to be able to connect with each other on those personal levels, too. For example, I want staff to know that I’m not just a nurse manager and a boss, but I’m also a person with a life outside of work, and I want staff to feel comfortable sharing that, too. We are implementing a warm, compassionate environment and a welcoming culture on Shep 3 North that aligns with the values of the organization.


What do you believe is the biggest benefit of your job?

NICOLE: For me, it’s the inspiration and ability to make positive change, and making a real impact on our community. We are encouraged to think outside of the box and always remain innovative and creative, in implementing changes that are for the better of the patients and the staff. The biggest benefit is knowing we have the ability to work together to build a positive work environment for everyone who walks through these doors. Evidence shows that if staff are happy, they provide better care. People are more motivated to come in and work together, to contribute and provide the quality of care we’re renowned for–the kind of care that every patient deserves. It’s all about making a positive impact.


Did the Network provide any financial assistance or professional growth support when you decided to go back to school and get your bachelor’s and master’s degrees?

NICOLE: Yes. I received several scholarships and tuition reimbursement. There are yearly scholarships that you can sign up and apply for within the Network, and it’s all leading up to Nurses Week. The scholarships are then awarded during Nurses Week, so you need to be enrolled in a program beforehand to be able to qualify, and they actually give out a lot of financial assistance. Some of the career growth opportunities and resources haven’t been tapped into yet, at least on a yearly basis, so I’ve been urging others to take advantage of those experiences. On top of that, there’s also tuition reimbursement. Once you’ve worked here for six months, everybody has the option to use that. The other great thing about UVMMC is that they pay for you to learn and earn important certifications. So if somebody wants to get Med-Surg certified, and let’s say they don’t pass the certification exam the first time, the Network actually covers the costs for the first couple attempts, and those costs can be expensive. Plus, we receive a bonus for earning our certifications. We consistently promote sending staff to conferences for professional development.


Do you feel supported in your new role at Shep 3 North?

NICOLE: Yes. Our director is very supportive. Adequate leadership of leadership is essential. We’re not perfect, we all have things that we can work on and grow from. Having the ability to be open to constructive criticism, or feedback, and taking that feedback and improving from it, that helps us all become better leaders and better nurses.


If UVMMC was a car, what kind of car would it be, and why?

NICOLE: I will say if UVMMC was a type of car it would be a Subaru, because they are the top car choice of Vermonters, reliable in all weather conditions, and originally made for off terrain. UVMMC is the largest hospital in Vermont and cares for our community here along with upstate New York and we are a level one trauma center. We are committed and reliable for high-quality, patient-centered care, along with providing a positive work environment for all of our staff members.


Be a part of something new! The University of Vermont Medical Center’s new long term, alternative care unit is officially open and recruiting RNs, LPNs, and LNAs. Learn more at  Jobs | The University of Vermont Health Network Careers (uvmhealthnetworkcareers.org).


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