Students in field

Kathleen Harmon is a nurse with sisu

December 28, 2017

Experience at Finlandia key to Harmon’s success

Kathleen Harmon 1986

Kathleen Harmon in 1986 as she graduated from Finlandia University.

Anyone from the nursing program’s 1986 class would have a hard time forgetting Kathleen Harmon’s inspirational finish to her collegiate experience. Harmon had her first child on January 6, 1986 and less than a week later she reported to her first class of her final semester. When Harmon went to the nursing pinning ceremony and graduation that spring, she proudly included her four-month old daughter through as much of it as she could. Like so many stories at FinnU then and now, it’s one of sisu that ended with a stirring graduation ceremony.

It was just the start of an incredible 31-year nursing career. She now serves as the Chief Nurse Executive of Sphere3, a consulting firm that does work nationwide focused on informatics –  specifically point of care analytics and clinical communication and collaboration optimization.

“The experience I had at Suomi was exactly what I needed to get started,” Harmon said. “Still today I am thankful to have the backbone of my career religiously rooted and community based. It’s important to be moving in a direction with purpose, especially for nurses who care so much for their patients.”

Harmon spent the first 15 years of her career as an Emergency Department (ED) nurse, doing what so many nurses do. She worked 12-hour shifts, including many years of night shift, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. She learned so much during these years and experienced the heartbreaking moments of life and death. Those moments that take your breath away.

“You don’t ever get over those experiences,” Harmon said. “They hurt your heart still. You just have to be thankful that you’re there with the patient. You care for them using all the skill and training you have as well as say prayers with the patient and family and just be there, fully present.”

“As a nurse, you need to be all-in all the time, and the difference you can make is amazing.” – Kathleen Harmon

That mindset was instilled within her at Finlandia University with professors like Barbara Whitman, Helen Lord, Patricia Alkire, Elizabeth Reynolds and Brenda Parker who made a distinct impact on her.

In 2003 Harmon’s career took off in a slightly different direction. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration and M.S. in Administration and Leadership. She took on multiple leadership roles at Trinity Health, including ED/Trauma Director as well as Corporate Senior Level Management Roles, specifically Informatics, overseeing Electronic Medical Record (EMR) implementations at 31 Trinity Health Hospitals.

Kathleen HarmonThat introduction to technology helped shape her view of the future of healthcare, and eventually she moved on to serve as Chief Nursing Executive at Burwood Group, Inc., headquartered in Chicago and her current position at Sphere3. She focuses on Healthcare informatics, which she calls the No. 1 growing field in nursing. Harmon is based out of Kansas City, Missouri, but regularly travels to healthcare facilities across the country.  Harmon and her team have assisted organizations such as University of Chicago, University of Utah Hospital, Yale-New Haven Hospital, multiple Children Specialty Hospitals and additional large academic medical centers across the country, offering expertise to their clinical communication roadmap, implementation plan and the ability to have access to real time analytics. The analytics piece can be a game changer for patient engagement and satisfaction, workflow optimization, and quality and safety metrics. Harmon has been a national speaker at nursing conferences, including American Nursing Informatics Association.

“My foundation at Finlandia helped propel me to this,” she said. “I know technology cannot drive care, but when used correctly it can enable quality care in a meaningful way. My goal is to help clients utilize technology and data in a way that can improve the lives of patients.”

Rooted in Finnish tradition

Kathleen Harmon (middle) with Anniina and Jaakko at their wedding in Finland.

Harmon grew up in the Detroit metro area, but her grandparents all immigrated to the Copper Country from Finland. One was a miner, and the other farmed in Liminga.

“My parents didn’t learn English until they were in elementary school,” Harmon said. “My grandparents only spoke Finnish.”

When Harmon’s parents were married, who are both Suomi College graduates, the ceremony was completely in Finnish. She’s related to many of the Heinonen and Maki families that still reside in the Copper Country, and remains extremely active in her Finnish roots. Kathleen and her husband Alan have six children, four of which are married, and four grandchildren. They have a sauna in the house, in Finnish tradition they celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, they make many Finnish foods at their home, she’s traveled to Finland and the family has even hosted five Finnish exchange students.

One of those exchange students invited Kathleen and Alan to Finland for her wedding. The Finn asked Alan to act as her father during the ceremony, an emotion-filled moment that’s telling to the close relationships they have with the exchange students. The couple hosted the exchange students in their Detroit home, and did their best to bring them to the U.P. while they were in the United States.

“The first time we did that, our student was crying because she became instantly home sick because the Copper Country is so similar to her home,” she said. “All of the students we hosted are family to us, and we stay in very close contact with all of them.”

Harmon continues to be an advocate for all things nursing and Finnish, and is proud to come back to the Copper Country several times each year to visit her family.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 Donor Edition of the Bridge magazine. It has been slightly edited to match with the publication date. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be releasing digital copies of all stories from that publication. 

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