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Alumni Profile in Excellence: Linda Merkey on a Journey to Excellence

July 16, 2009

Linda Dorsey Merkey is on a memorable journey. The Cordell native chose to study at Oklahoma Baptist University because the University's nursing program was one of just a few quality options in the state. Three decades later, she has helped advance nursing across the state.

When she came to Bison Hill in the mid-'70s, Merkey knew she wanted to earn a bachelor's degree in nursing. Looking back, she believes she chose wisely.

"OBU did a wonderful job preparing me for the real world," said the 1978 graduate. "During my senior year, my leadership experience helped me refine my clinical skills, build confidence, learn how to prioritize and, above all, taught me how to build effective working relationships."

A 2009 Profile In Excellence award recipient, Merkey recalled how the leadership of OBU professors Lana Bolhouse and Betty Gorrell positively affected her professional practice. Now dean of OBU's School of Nursing, Dr. Bolhouse has more than three decades of nursing and educational experience. When Linda was on the campus, the 1973 OBU graduate was in the early days of her career as a psychiatric nursing educator. In 1996, the Oklahoma Nurses Association gave her the Outstanding Psychiatric Nurse of the Year Award.

"Although I never planned to practice psychiatric nursing, I learned so much from Lana about reading people and creating a safe environment," Merkey said. "These skills are a prerequisite to becoming an effective nursing leader."

Dr. Gorrell influenced not only Merkey's clinical practice, but ultimately her choice of an employer, as well.

"Betty was a wonderful nursing role model," Merkey said. "She had a true passion for pediatric nursing, and she shared that with her students. She always involved the parents in the care of their child and always displayed care and compassion for the family."

Merkey said Gorrell guided several OBU nursing students to choose to work at Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City.

"In my case, she wanted me to experience a more normal, typical patient population before working in a dysfunctional environment," Merkey said. "Well, I think it is safe to say it was good advice, as 30 years later I am still working for the same company."

Following her time on campus, Merkey earned a master's degree in business administration from Oklahoma City University. In the past three decades, her career has led her to the post of system-wide chief nursing officer for Integris Health in Oklahoma City. She was promoted in May 2008 after 10 years as CNO and vice president for patient care services with Integris Baptist.

At Integris Baptist Medical Center, Merkey was responsible for nurses working in emergency services, surgical services, the outpatient department and Hospice of Oklahoma County. She also served as interim president of the Integris Heart Hospital, interim administrator of Integris Baptist and administrator of Women's and Children's Services for Integris Metro Facilities. In 2007, following in the steps of one of her OBU mentors, she was honored by the Oklahoma Nurses Association. The group gave Linda the Excellence in Nursing Administration Award.

In her new post, she works closely with each hospital president and chief nursing officer in the Integris Health system to address issues which impact patient care. She facilitates the growth of nursing leadership, vision and strategies within the Integris system.

In her decade as vice president for patient care, Merkey played an integral role in leading Integris Baptist to achieve the highly coveted "Magnet" designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. The distinction represents the highest level of national recognition for health care organizations which demonstrate sustained excellence in nursing care. Only 4 percent of acute health care facilities nationwide - and only two hospitals in Oklahoma - have achieved the elite status.

"Magnet can be described as a journey to excellence in nursing," Merkey said.

According to the credentialing center, the full expression of "14 Forces of Magnetism" embodies a professional environment guided by a strong and visionary nursing leader who advocates and supports excellence in nursing practice. Merkey led Integris Baptist to excellence in the 14 forces, which encompass quality of nursing leadership, organizational structure, management style, personnel policies and programs, professional models of care, quality of care, quality improvement, consultation and resources, autonomy, community and the healthcare organization, nurses as teachers, image of nursing, interdisciplinary relationships, and professional development.

The hospital staff received word of its Magnet designation in May 2008, with congratulations pouring in from across the community and the state. Balloons and flowers began arriving at the hospital. Other hospital systems offered congratulations through radio commercials.

Outside of the hospital, Merkey has served for nine years on the Board of Hospice of Oklahoma County, a not-for-profit organization which provides end-of-life care to dying patients within their homes. The organization's mission is to enhance the quality of life for the terminally ill and their families.

"I have learned so much about the care of a patient who is actively dying," Merkey said. "Hospice is a wonderful resource to families who want their loved ones to be treated with dignity and respect during those last weeks and months of their lives. It has been a privilege to serve on the board, and it has blessed my life in so many ways."

Merkey's own family includes her husband of 28 years, Dr. Mike Merkey, a practicing neurologist in Northwest Oklahoma City, and her daughter, Madalyn, a sophomore at Columbia College in Chicago.

As a wife, mother, nurse and administrator, Merkey has taken the basic skills of a caregiver she learned on Bison Hill, and positively affected lives for 30 years. It's easy to anticipate more great things to come as she continues her work in Oklahoma healthcare.

Click the following link to view a full list of previous Profile in Excellence recipients.