Teaching Is a Mission for 2017 Board Chair
At a Glance
Eileen Couture became chair of NCCHC’s board of directors on Oct. 24, 2016. Here she discusses her career path and her involvement with NCCHC.
“Absolutely not!” That was Eileen Couture’s first reaction when offered a position at Cook County Jail in Chicago. By that time, Couture had built a solid, 20-year resume in health care, primarily in emergency medicine, both as a nurse and as a physician, with both clinical and administrative experience.
With health care her sole career interest since her teens, when her after-school job was as a hospital dietary aide, Couture earned a BSN degree and then an MSN. She took on progressively responsible roles, from staff nurse to nurse manager and director of emergency nursing. It was while working as a clinical nurse manager that a fellow nurse who had enrolled in medical school suggest that Couture follow suit. Four years later, she was a newly minted DO.
She took an emergency medicine residency at Cook County Hospital (now the John H. Stroger, Jr., Hospital of Cook County) and became an attending physician there, a job she still performs today. Cook County Jail looked to the hospital when it needed someone to assess, reorganize and improve its emergency services.
Couture’s first visit to the jail triggered that “Absolutely not!” reaction. Two visits later, though, she was intrigued and took the job. “After 2 months, I said, ‘This is such a cool place—there’s so much we can do here!’” Couture recalls. “It was the challenge, the need for advocacy. In the hospital, we only saw the sick people they sent to us, but in the jail there were 10,000 more. It changed my perspective.”
Spreading the Word
That new perspective turned Couture into an evangelist of sorts. She started learning everything she could about correctional health care, as well as educating medical students, residents and her colleagues at the hospital. She discovered the “green book”—NCCHC’s Standards for Health Services in Jails—and learned about health services accreditation.
Her six-month assignment stretched into more than three years. A major accomplishment was to obtain an advanced life support ambulance for the jail, available for inmates 24/7. This greatly improved response time and communication with the receiving hospitals.
In 2005, Couture presented on the ambulance program at NCCHC’s National Conference on Correctional Health Care and made an important connection: William Haeck, MD, CCHP, her predecessor as the American College of Emergency Physicians liaison on the board of directors. For two years, Haeck served as a devoted mentor, grooming her for the board and nominating her as his replacement in 2007.
During her decade on the board, Couture has been an enthusiastic participant on several committees, helping to advance the NCCHC mission. But she says her greatest contribution to the field is lecturing. “I like to teach, to motivate people, to help them improve their practice,” she explains.
As chair, Couture intends to expand her educational outreach, spreading the word about the importance of certification and accreditation to health care quality. “If you look at CCHP certification as a mechanism to educate people, it champions the desire to do well,” she says. “And that knowledge and enthusiasm can drive a commitment to accreditation.”