“I like the high-acuity, high-intensity stuff.”

Zach Southard, UWHC Nurse Clinician, Cardiac and Thoracic Surgery, Heart and Lung Transplant

Zach Southard easily recalls the man whose grateful parents wrote a letter nominating him to be one of “Madison’s Favorite Nurses.”

“This is about as young a patient as we’d ever see,” he says.

Southard also remembers the moment a year ago when the father of his twenty-year-old patient, who’d just returned from surgery to repair a congenital hole in his heart, had to step out of the room. Hot and lightheaded, he was overcome by the shock of seeing his own son so weak and tethered to countless tubes and machines.

“No matter how much you explain to them about what they’re going to see, it looks like mass chaos,” says Southard, a nurse clinician on the cardiac and thoracic surgery, heart and lung transplant team at UW Hospital and Clinics. “But from our standpoint it’s pretty organized.”

Southard enjoys breaking down the health of the patients and the care they’re receiving into bite-size pieces that people can digest, particularly at a frenetic time when emotions are high.

“I like the high-acuity, high-intensity stuff,” he says.

And he may come by it naturally. The UW–Madison grad’s father is a nurse on a post-anesthesia recovery unit in Appleton, and his younger brother, Sam, also a UW alum, followed in Southard’s footsteps—literally. He works at the same hospital. On the same heart and vascular team.

Calm and competent, Southard says the job, which he landed right after graduation, comes with a steep learning curve.

“You don’t learn to be a nurse in nursing school,” he says. “Over time you learn far more than you ever could’ve imagined.”

To that end, he describes the mentoring and training on his unit as top-notch, and his colleagues as “the best part of this job.” He serves on his unit’s advisory council, which reviews cases, helps manage organization and protocol, and teases out best practices.

Best practices, for instance, like knowing that no two cases are alike.

“You learn very quickly that you can’t treat numbers,” says Southard. “You treat patients.”

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