More than two years ago, Peggy Kattenberg, a registered nurse and educator at St. Francis Medical Center, made a mistake while administering medication.

“I didn’t want to hurt anybody, and fortunately this patient wasn’t significantly hurt,” an emotional Kattenberg said. “But it could have been worse. The nurse is the last step.”

That experience changed the way she (and she hopes other) medical professionals care for patients.

Kattenberg will travel this month to Florida, where she will receive the national 2017 National Patient Safety Foundation DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses. She attributes the honor, at least in part, to safety measures she helped initiate following her experience.

This week, Kattenberg spoke with the Business Journal about being destined for health care, educating her peers and creating an environment in which health care providers can focus on making the patient better.

Where are you from?

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I was born in Kansas, but I’ve lived in Colorado all my adult life. I went to high school in Buena Vista. … I have seven sisters and half were married off when I graduated. I didn’t know what I wanted to be so I moved back to Wichita and lived with one of my sisters. That’s the first time I worked in a hospital. At 18 I was a secretary on a labor-and-delivery unit. My sister worked at the hospital. It was the best job at 18, getting to see all of it — the good and the bad. And the nurses there put me on the path that got me to where I am today. At 22 I moved from Wichita to Colorado Springs.

What were you doing here?

I loved health care and got a job at the old St. Francis hospital at Pikes Peak [Avenue] and Institute [Street] in 1994. I was a patient registrar at the emergency department. From there I went to Penrose Community [Hospital] as a secretary on the [medical-surgical] unit, which is the unit I work on now at St. Francis because it moved. I worked there until about 2002 and needed day shifts. They couldn’t accommodate it at the time, but I had a small child, so I went to home care and worked at Complete Home Health Care for 10 years. That’s where, after all this hospital experience, the dream built for me. I have three sisters who are nurses and I wanted to go that route. So I went to nursing school and graduated from Beth-El [College of Nursing] at UCCS in 2011 with my bachelor’s and now I’m in the final year of my master’s as a nurse educator.

What did the transition from home care to hospital nurse look like?

When I first started here as a new graduate, I was a floor nurse. In about a year I transitioned into a part-time charge nurse. That was another big step … learning a leadership role and to feel like a leader. I did that until October 2015 when my manager was able to open a position for a part-time nurse educator [at St. Francis]. … I began my master’s program in 2014 and, even though I wanted to be a nurse, my ultimate goal was to be like my instructors. They were so knowledgeable and passionate about nursing. That’s where I saw myself in the future.

In October 2015 my role changed again. I am a part-time educator here, and I also fill in. I’m always in blue because at any moment I might have to grab my stethoscope and run out on the floor. Or I have to take over as charge nurse.

I love that. I get to stay on the clinical side so I don’t lose my skills, and as a nurse educator you have to keep up with evidence-based practices.

What do you do as an educator?

One thing I do is teach basic EKG or basic rhythm interpretation for nurses. I teach that for the medical and surgical nurses throughout Penrose-St. Francis in a classroom. I’m also on some committees, like I chair the professional development committee. I’m also on a fall committee — patient safety. Patient safety is primary. We look at occurrences and see what we can improve upon. I also make sure employees have the education they need.

How will earning a master’s change your job?

Hopefully not at all. My goal is to be a full-time educator. But where I am now doesn’t require a master’s degree. It’s something I wanted to be the best I could be. I want to be at that level. The master’s also allows me to teach at nursing colleges. We have two great colleges in town — Beth-El and Pikes Peak Community College. I have worked at both as a clinical instructor. I don’t foresee leaving the Penrose system. I love it here. But it does open doors where I could lecture in a college.

Talk about the DAISY Award.

Employee recognition means a lot to nurses. We don’t want to be thanked, per se — we’re here to serve our patients and it’s an honor to take care of someone in their time of need and be trusted. It’s a sacred place. That’s why we do what we do. But it sure is nice to be recognized by your peers and managers and administration for a job well done. It’s very special. …

Family, physicians, co-workers and managers can nominate anyone. For this award one needed to meet certain criteria on a national level.

It’s partly because of the safety initiative in which you’re involved?

I think so. Unfortunately I’d made a [medication] error in early 2015. Medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in this country, and that’s not OK on any level. My error really made me think, ‘Am I good enough to be a nurse?’ When that happens, the patient is always harmed to some degree. Fortunately my patient was not significantly harmed, but it could have been worse and it was still an error on my part.

We’re all human … but it’s really critical for nurses to be on their game. … I had to build myself back up after that. One day I was passing out meds, and we carry these phones, which are wonderful to get a hold of each other, but while passing meds to just one patient, I received five phone calls. You want to explain to [the patient] what they’re receiving and why they’re receiving them. There’s a lot to go over. I was really frustrated, and it happens a lot. I told my manager it’s difficult to be safe while we’re constantly interrupted. We looked into it and gathered data and found how many times we’re interrupted during shifts and while we’re passing out medication. We we’re able to come up with some interventions to decrease interruptions.

That was probably a big part of why I was nominated for the award. But the hardest part for me is I’ve grown through the people I work with. I see them work so hard every day and they give their all. They’re all deserving of the same award. Really and truly.

As an educator, do you see a nursing workforce shortage locally?

We want to retain our nurses. You invest a lot when you have to hire new people. Colorado Springs is growing. … I know we need nurses to continue to go to school and we’re so fortunate in Colorado Springs to have the schools we have. … I think at Penrose-St. Francis we do a good job of bringing in new nurses and developing them through various programs. We have a lot of mentoring in place to nurture and help nurses grow. …

But I don’t think we have a shortage here. When classes graduate each semester we get handfuls and handfuls of resumés. We never have to go hunting.