From Scrubs to a Hard Hat and Back

Lisa Mogannam, RN, gets a bird's eye view of the new Mission Bay Hospitals. They are scheduled to open Feb. 1, 2015.

By Suzanne Leigh on June 30, 2014

Asked to sum up the 21 months since she left 8 Long on Parnassus for the trailers outside the construction site of what is now clearly UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, registered nurse Lisa Mogannam doesn’t pause: “It’s been a wild ride,” she said, sipping a cappuccino at a popular coffee franchise, one of a cluster fringing the new hospitals that will surely see a jolt in business with their February 1 opening next year.

However wild the ride, it’s safe to say that Mogannam, who has worked at UCSF for 15 years, was not hired for her quiet compliancy in her role as “nurse liaison.” It’s a title that she chose herself – one that underscores her lack of pretentiousness and undermines the herculean task that had been assigned to her: “to understand the workflow of every clinician” and advocate for what is needed – equipment, supplies, space, a room with a view -- in order to optimize the patient experience.

“I’m not afraid to be outspoken and make a case for what needs to be done,” said Mogannam. “And I’m not afraid to call out mistakes, including my own. But I knew that throwing my weight around was not the way to go. So I invited clinicians to visit the site, make their voices heard and then support them.”

And invite them she did, picking up overextended physicians in her own car to take a look at their future workplace because “we have to have everyone’s feedback,” leading tours for nurses, social workers, residents, “anyone who touches the patient” and distributing her cell phone number with generous abandon to those with questions. She’s played a hand in anything from dealing with an errant toilet to reconfiguring the floor plan when a room was too small to accommodate its equipment and pushing for the exodus of computers that would clutter up hospital hallways, replacing them with those that could be attached to the headwall of patients’ beds. This she seems to have achieved, according to those who know her, without the slamming of doors or that most unappealing of employee traits: an attitude.

Lisa Mogannam, left, confers with members of her team at Mission Bay.

Mogannam’s enthusiasm for the Mission Bay behemoth wasn’t immediate. She had been hand-picked for the job by Kim Scurr, executive director of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco, but two weeks of “poring over spreadsheets” made her eager to get back to the bedside of her patients in adult neurosurgery and neurology. “These are people with strokes, multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease) – people like you and me until suddenly they get hit with this diagnosis. Many are patients that receive long-term care and they become like family. It’s a privilege to care for them,” she said.

But then Mogannam’s job description was changed to a more hands-on role in directing the workflow to the clinicians at the new hospitals. She rolled up her sleeves, embraced a hard hat and fluorescent vest and quickly became as approachable to the construction crew as she did with department heads. Her friendliness and warmth is evident as she speaks, with frequent pauses as she offers a smile and wave to a parade of apparently cherished friends.

Mogannam’s credibility comes from her background as a clinician, said Scurr. “She knows what clinicians need in order to work effectively. I have been most impressed with the fact that Lisa knew very little about most departments moving to Mission Bay, yet she has formed relationships with physicians, lab managers, radiologists, respiratory therapists that have ensured them that their space was as they would like it. And if not, as close as possible. ‘Anything you want, baby’ is a familiar line from Lisa,” said Scurr.

Lisa Mogannam shows her enthusiam with the progress of the Mission Bay hospitals project.

Even with the most esthetically pleasing of workplaces with every accoutrement located exactly where it should be, Mogannam acknowledges that not every clinician is thrilled to move to Mission Bay. “Some of the nurses in the children’s hospital have formed very deep attachments and they are dealing with letting go. It will be a transition for them. Some people resist change and the new hospitals will represent a culture shock; they are quieter, nursing stations are smaller – the ICUs have two nurses at a station – and this will require an adjustment for those of us used to a bustling station with a great spirit of camaraderie. But the upshot of all these changes is a better experience for patients,” she said.

Mogannam will be returning to 8 Long next year when the Parnassus hospital launches a catch-up process of upgrades and renovation. She’s excited to continue her career at UCSF, a place that represents hope, triumph – and her own happily resolved anguish.

Nearly 20 years ago, Mogannam then a student nurse was referred to UCSF from her community hospital when her toddler son knifed himself in the eye, an injury that caused permanent impaired vision. (Cole is now a 21-year-old student). 

“What impressed me about the nurses was how they calmly took charge of my son. They knew what to do and they got on with it. I was immediately in awe of them,’’ Mogannam said.

She doesn’t say it, but what Mogannam may have also seen in that team of highly competent nurses was her future self: a clinician that sees what needs to be done and gets on with it.

Photos by Susan Merrell