Niki Flemmer
Niki Flemmer, (MN-FNP ’11), MN, ARNP/FNP-C, CNOR
ARNP at Adventist Health Surgical Specialists at Walla Walla General Hospital

What I am most passionate about is exploring and cultivating the patient-provider relationship. I, together with my Master’s Program committee, created an interdisciplinary framework for nurses and other helping professionals to create effective and therapeutic partnerships with their patients. The framework is called “Empathetic Partnership” and it is based on nursing New Zealand’s Cultural Safety, the Cultural Safety teachings of the late Dr. Irihapeti Ramsden, and the teachings of sociologist Dr. Brené Brown. We just finished writing a paper introducing the framework and it’s in the copyediting phase now. The Empathetic Partnership is something I’m very excited about and it’s something I would have never done without the help of Dawn Doutrich and Lida Dekker.

I am also the founder of The We Belong Project, an online resource and blog for women of sexual minority and those who care for them. It’s my intention for it to be a safe place for patients and providers alike to start and continue conversations about Cultural Safety, patient-provider relationships, health promotion, community, and self-acceptance.

What do you love about WSU College of Nursing?

I love WSU College of Nursing’s commitment to diversity and holistic learning. I also admire and appreciate the faculty and staff. WSU, in both my BSN and my MN program, had such kind, helpful, intelligent, and world-class scholars assisting me in my journey. I am honored to have attended WSU CON and am proud to be an alumni. My time at WSU was, and has been, one of the biggest gifts of my life.

Tell us a little bit about your career, what you are doing, and where you work.

I am currently working in a surgical specialists office with two general surgeons and a plastic surgeon. Most of my time is spent assisting in the operating room, doing patient consults and laser tattoo removals. I really enjoy my job, the people I work with and helping to take care of patients in a team environment.

Who has been an important mentor in your career, and why do they deserve recognition?

There have been many important mentors in my career. The most important are Lida Dekker and Dawn Doutrich, both WSU professors. I took Lida’s class as an undergraduate in 2008 called “Cultural Safety and Social Justice in Global Society”. I had no idea that when I signed up for that class, I would be entering a huge transformational period of learning to love and accept myself and my own personal culture. Lida, as my teacher and mentor, provided a safe space for me to learn about who I am. In beginning to accept myself, I started a healing process in a very deep and meaningful way. It is a journey I am still on. One of the outcomes of this journey is that it has given me more empathy for my patients, colleagues, family and friends. That class and that personal journey that was sparked affirmed for me in a new way why I became a nurse. It also affirmed for me that who I am matters. And because of this experience I have made a commitment to do my best to provide a safe space for my patients and others to explore who they are and what their personal culture looks like to them, how they want to show up in the world, and what health look likes to them. Dawn Doutrich was my committee chair for my MN program and Lida was a member of my committee. They helped continue this wonderful mentoring program for me in 2010 and 2011 and together we published my final MN paper in the Journal for Nurse Practitioners in 2012. We just finished writing our second paper together. What stands them apart from the crowd is that both Lida and Dawn created a safe space for me so I could see my own potential, my own unique gifts to the nursing profession, and my own strength as both nurse and human being. I am forever grateful to them. The best kind of teacher is the one who gently holds a mirror and lets you stand up to see your own true, beautiful reflection.

What advice would you give to new nursing students just starting at the college?

My advice to new nursing students would be to be open and willing to learn in unexpected ways. It was because I was open to a new way of thinking about the world in my BSN program that I was catapulted into a self-healing journey that ultimately changed my worldview and my profession as a nurse. You will learn about diseases, health promotion, theories and best practices. But the biggest gifts of education come in ways you can’t and won’t expect. So keep your eyes and your heart open; it’s in the spaces in-between where the magic happens.

What are your future nursing career goals?

My goals as a nurse practitioner are to write and speak. I want to teach other nurses and nurse educators as well as other helping professionals about Empathetic Partnership. I also want to continue my goal to be an LGBT advocate as a nurse leader and expand The We Belong Project into a bigger conversation about self-acceptance and empathy for both providers and patients individually and in relationship with one another.