Marilou Dienger puts patients first, while looking out for her staff

May 12, 2019

Marilou Dienger always knew she wanted a job where she could work with people, and when she started her nursing career at a surgical hospital in Marshfield, Wis., she loved it.

Then one night, she came across an accident.

It would wind up changing the course of exactly what kind of nurse she wanted to be.

“Even though I was a nurse, I wasn’t a trauma nurse,” Dienger said. “And I wasn’t sure what to do in that situation.”

Thus began a path toward learning the skills that would have allowed her to help that night — skills she’s used to help countless others since, both as a volunteer first responder and as a nurse.

Dienger, who has been at Winona Health for more than 12 years, was a top nominee among nurses in the La Crosse and Winona areas as part of “Nurses: The Heart of Health Care,” sponsored by the River Valley Media Group.

As nurse manager in the hospital’s emergency department, Dienger performs the same duties anyone else would when a patient arrives needing attention. But she’s also responsible for hiring folks who can handle the pressure and adapt on a moment’s notice if something isn’t going right.

“It’s one thing I ask when we interview people. ‘Are you comfortable with that type of environment, where you might be asked to make some changes?’” she said. “Healthcare is ever-changing. And if we don’t come up with new ideas, new solutions, we’re not going to be able to take care of our patients as well.”

She didn’t set out to capture a leadership role. In fact, she didn’t even think she really had a passion for it. But that changed when she was encouraged to step into the nurse manager position.

“What I learned is that I need feedback, because then I grow,” Dienger said. “I asked my staff, ‘Please give me feedback. Then I will grow and be a better leader for you.’”

But even when Dienger is watching over her staff, she remembers who needs to come first. She prides herself on utilizing a patient-centered care model at all times.

And that can sometimes be tricky. She knows there are healthy people out there, but when your job is treating the sick and hurting on what can sometimes be their worst day, it’s easy to get caught up in the pain you witness first-hand.

It’s why having a team she can count on and knowing when to take a step back is such a crucial part of being a good nurse. At Winona Health, Dienger said, she’s blessed to work with providers and staff who understand how to advocate for patients and for themselves when they might need a moment to decompress.

In tough moments like those, she remembers why she does it.

“You’re able to help them in their time of need,” Dienger said. “That’s a good thing, that you can make an impact. Even though people have to go through bad things sometimes, and have to be in our department, we can bring some good … by taking good care of them.”

As the world changes and as patient populations change, she said, one thing about nurses will never waver: their ability to provide comfort and support, just as she does to everyone who walks through the department’s doors.

“I think of the trauma patient when you’re just there at the bedside with them, trying to make them comfortable … and there’s a million questions that they might ask,” Dienger said. “I’m giving them the reassurance that they need.

“‘We’re going to take care of that. But right now, we’re taking care of you.’”