Teri Dreher, RN, CCRN, iRNPA, is an expert at helping those who are enmeshed in the logistics of health trauma and unable to help themselves. With 36 years as a registered nurse including experience in critical care nursing and as a cardiovascular nurse clinician, Teri understands the challenges and complexities of obtaining quality healthcare.
Patients with serious medical conditions are often left on their own to find answers to their questions. This is where Teri Dreher steps in. As a patient advocate, she helps patients navigate acute illnesses and works to shield the patient from unnecessary hardship, pain, and the possibility of medical error. Having lived within the “system” longer than she has not, Teri understands how to collaborate with healthcare providers and demands results.
Awards & Achievements
2016: Chicago Business Journal: Women of Influence Award
Alliance of Professional Health Advocates: H. Kenneth Schueler Patient Advocacy Compass Award
2004 – 2014: Hands to Hearts International, President
2014: GLMV Chamber of Commerce: Entrepreneur of the Year Award
NAHAC Board Member, Chair of Symposium Committee
VIP Member of “Who’s Who of Madison”
Member of Paul Harris Fellowship: Rotary International
International Director of Libertyville Sunrise Rotary Club
Jefferson Award Nominee
CCRN since 1979
American Association of Critical Care Nurses
Board Member of the National Association of Health Advocate Consultants
Association of Professional Health Advocates
Interview - Question & Answer
Teri, would tell us a bit about your life before nursing?
I was born in Florida to a stay at home mom and military father, and over the years our family grew to include 9 children. We moved frequently due to my dad’s specialty in the Marine Corps as an engineer. He had two tours of duty for 18 months each, so my mom had her hands full when my dad was overseas. My grandfather on my dad’s side was a missionary in India and China for over 30 years, and my dad grew up in India, coming to the U.S. as a young teenager.
How did your familial background effect your life?
The stories I heard growing up made me have a global perspective and curiosity for the poor and influenced me to start two non-profits as an adult to help provide medical care to people living in remote villages in South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania and Lesotho. While working in Africa I found my voice: being a voice for people with no one to advocate for them. This changed my perspective back in America as my passion for the marginalized grew, and I realized that seniors and adults with disabilities were starting to fall through the cracks in modern healthcare. This ultimately led to my decision to start my own private professional advocacy company in 2011.
What an amazing history you have had in your personal life! What is a day in your life like?
My day begins at 5:00 AM; I check email and respond to items only I can answer for about one hour. I pray and meditate after that, then go to the health club or take a walk or bike ride. I hop in the shower and get ready for my first meeting; usually around 7:00 or 8:00. By 10:00 I am back in the office and review the plan for the day with my business administration and development employee, who is a physician. We plan for speaking events, networking groups, discuss payroll/billing and client issues and develop new products and services with our marketing team.
Most days I have at least one lunch meeting. If they are scheduled in downtown Chicago I hop on the train and work on projects, email, or PowerPoint presentations during the one hour commute. Some afternoons I see clients, but most of our clients are assigned to the advocates who work for us as sub-contractors. I get on the train to come home and catch up on email and phone calls around 4:00 unless I am speaking at a dinner meeting.
Do you have a lot of speaking engagements?
Most months I have 4-8 speaking events and have around 20 one-on-one meetings with business associates; as well as attend 8-10 networking events. I belong to eight networking groups and go to 2-3 per week on average. This helps spread the word about our field.
Why did you enter the field of nursing?
My favorite aunt was a nurse and I adored her and wanted to be like her. I originally wanted to be an artist, but my family convinced me that nursing fit with my personality and gifts, and I always wanted to make a difference to people who were suffering.
What was the hardest part about nursing school?
Pediatrics. I had a very hard time reconciling child abuse cases. I could never really provide objective support to parents who abuse children. Because I knew I would not be able to do pediatric nursing, I got my only B in pediatric studies. Other than that, in school most classes I found easy and got mostly A’s.
Why did you choose to go into ICU nursing as a specialty?
I went into ICU nursing because it was the most challenging, and I loved the excitement of saving lives. I found it intellectually more challenging and stimulating and was hungry for knowledge. The hospital I graduated from nursing school at had no ICU positions, so after a year of floor nursing, I moved to Chicago to work in a big city trauma hospital. Most of my 39 years of hospital nursing were in ICU. I worked for two years in home health toward the end of my employed career, as well as one year in Stem Cell Transplant. I also worked as a cardiovascular nurse clinician for an interventional cardiologist and learned so much in that field. Towards the end of my hospital career I was having more trouble lifting heavy patients and being on my feet for busy 12-hour shifts, so I realized I needed to retire.
What happened? You obviously are not retired and are an honored and awarded professional?
About that time, my father in law had a serious medical calamity while we were on a cruise ship for a family vacation. He almost died and had multiple complications at four different hospitals. After it was done (he is still alive today after 8 years) I realized I had a strong calling for patient advocacy. After almost getting fired for advocating for a patient in the hospital a few weeks later, I realized that hospital nurses cannot always freely advocate for patients any longer when they are employees, so I took a course and started my own business. It has been the best career decision of my life.
Describe the ideal characteristics of a nurse. What qualities does one have?
They are caring, compassionate, dedicated, creative, skilled, smart and a good communicator. They have a sense of humor, are wise, loving, kind and dependable. Also, they always go above and beyond to meet others’ needs.
What skills and/or qualities make for a good patient advocate?
You have to be a risk taker and believe strongly in your calling to privately advocate. Strong leadership qualities, the ability to work independently, critical thinking skills and good communication skills are essential. You really have to love people and treat them like family.
What do you love most about your job?
I get to save people’s lives as well as save money and aggravation for them as I help them navigate the system…I am using my expertise and experience to make a difference just like I did in ICU for almost 40 years.
In the field of being a patient advocate, what are some of the significant, recent changes?
Growth, growing public awareness of the need for all patients to have an advocate; whether it be family, friends or a professional.
If you had the ability to change one thing in your field, what would it be?
National accreditation, which is in process now.
When you retire permanently, what do you hope to have accomplished?
I hope to have built a large, sustainable company that has the best nurses and physicians possible to meet the needs of clients in the Chicago region. Within the next five years I would like to franchise our business to other states and develop training programs for people entering the field.
If the daughter of a friend told you she wanted to follow in your footsteps, what counsel would you give her?
I would say to find a good advocacy program to provide the foundational tools. I would advise to find a business mentor and to never give up. I would say to be patient. It takes 3-4 years of hard work to get a business to the point where it can sustain you financially, so start part time and see if you like it before you take a full plunge. Join professional industry organizations such as NAHAC and APHA. Believe in the power of patient advocacy: it is growing field that will only get bigger with the US healthcare system becoming more fast paced and complex. Finding experienced and savvy nurses to help patients navigate the world of healthcare, insurance and billing challenges will soon be on everyone’s radar. Our experience is valuable and powerful. Nurses are WAY MORE than just part of the bed charge… our skills, knowledge and “street smarts” are extremely valuable and needed in these times!
Subscribe to EveryNurse
Useful tips, advice, and inspiration for nurses. Sent twice a month. You can unsubscribe at any time.