UCLA Health RN is dedicated to advocating for his fellow nurses

‘There are so many different ways nurses can contribute to health care and can be drivers of change,’ says Christopher Lee.
Nurse Christopher Lee poses for a photo.
Christopher Lee, RN (Photo by Joshua Sudock/UCLA Health)

Christopher Lee, RN, is just six years into his career as a nurse, but already he has achieved more than many nurses his senior.

Lee, a clinical nurse III in 6 West, a surgical specialty medical-surgical unit at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, participates in multiple nursing governance councils, including as chair of the Structural Empowerment Collaborative Council, chair of his Unit Practice Council, charter member and subcommittee lead of the Unity in Diversity Council, a member of the Nursing Executive Council and a member of the Transformational Leadership Council.

And that’s just the beginning.

Lee also is co-lead of the Support Through Appreciation and Recognition (STAR) Committee, the group responsible for planning nursing celebrations that promote recognition at the unit and health system levels.

Lee views his council participation as his “second position” at UCLA Health. His drive to advocate for the well-being of fellow nurses comes from the realization that he can use his voice to implement change and create a better working environment, he says.

“The work I do in my councils is to ensure our nurses are being given the tools to be their best and to participate in shared decision-making and for them to be valued as leaders in health care,” Lee says. “It goes under recognizing the potential for each nurse to make an impact in health care.”

At the center of patient care

Lee traces his passion for helping others back to a promise he made to his grandmother that he would take care of her and his family as they got older. As a child, that idea translated into one day becoming a doctor, he says. But during college, he saw the potential that nurses have to directly affect patients on a more personal level.

“I learned about the relationship nurses are able to build with their patients, and I saw they’re hands-on and very much at the center of care with patients and families, and I wanted to be part of that,” Lee explains. “I think I’m still able to care for my family as a nurse in many different ways, and I’m grateful for that.”

Lee earned a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from University of Wisconsin, Madison. After graduation, he was accepted into UCLA Health’s New Graduate Nurse Residency Program and started in the cardiothoracic ICU in 2017.

When the pandemic hit, Lee volunteered as a COVID-19 safety champion and worked with the unit leadership team to ensure nurses were emotionally and physically ready to care for patients with COVID-19.

His participation in governing councils began when his former unit director gave him an opportunity to participate in the Structural Empowerment Council, which focuses on wellness.

His commitment grew from there.

“I saw my potential, and others saw it, too,” Lee recalls. “It was like, ‘Chris, you can do something, too. You can be that leader that you’re looking at each and every day.’ I credit those nurse leaders who saw that potential in me.”

Giving nurses their due recognition

Lee enjoys his work on all his councils and committees but counts the STAR Committee as one of the most rewarding. As the driving force behind nurse recognition at UCLA Health, STAR comprises a group of bedside nurses who collaborate with nursing leadership to coordinate nursing awards, select scholarship recipients and oversee the Daisy Award program, which recognizes individuals and teams of nurses who demonstrate extraordinary and compassionate care.

Lee notes that the number of Daisy Awards has increased threefold, from 13 in 2021 to 43 in 2022, since the program was re-designed last year – a project in which he was directly involved.

“At this time, we have been able to complete two rounds of Daisy Awards, and we hope to make it three in the near future,” Lee says.

Arguably the largest event STAR organizes is Nurses Week, held annually the second week of May to recognize the more than 4,000 care providers at UCLA Health. Past activities have included wellness sessions, gift cards, complimentary breakfast in the hospital cafeterias, pizza lunches, sweets from local bakeries, flower deliveries on the units and awards for outstanding service.

Nurses Week is a monumental undertaking, Lee says, adding that planning begins almost a year in advance.

“Our group is so passionate about everything they do,” Lee says. “We work closely with (Chief Nursing Executive) Karen Grimley to make sure our nurses feel appreciated through what we’re providing.”

Worthy of his own recognition

Although it’s early in his career, Lee’s contributions already have garnered accolades. In May, he was one of 30 nurses – 10 from UCLA Health – to be honored by the Simms/Mann Family Foundation’s Off the Chart program, which recognizes nurses for outstanding care with a $10,000 gift. 

By the program’s design, recipients embody “a bias toward action, capacity for self-direction, originality and creative instincts, courageous and bold thinking, and the potential to achieve even more.”

Accustomed to being on the other side of award-giving, Lee was surprised to be chosen as a recipient in this program's first year.

“I was very shocked, but I was deeply touched,” Lee says. “It was nice to be recognized in such a meaningful way. I was speechless.”

Lee hopes that such formalized recognitions will demonstrate that nurses are a worthy investment and that the work they do is multifaceted.

“There are so many different ways nurses can contribute to health care and can be drivers of change,” says Lee. “It’s important we see that foundations are investing into nursing because we’re seeing that money being put into other specialties while nursing goes unappreciated. This award is meaningful because we’re being spotlighted to show people who aren’t in health care what we do to help people and the impact we make every day.”

Future plans

International travel is another of Lee’s passions, and he plans to use part of his award money toward an extended vacation in New Zealand. He also is seeking a meaningful foundation to which he can contribute the rest of the money.

“One of the things my mom instilled in me is giving back to others,” he says.

True to his nature, Lee has found another way to give back.

“I just finished my first year of an MBA program, and I’d like to use that degree to be that leader who can bridge the gap between the bedside and the decision-making table,” Lee says. “I can be there to help enhance our nurses’ voices, to build up our organization, and together we can be the best possible.”

Jennifer Karmarkar is the author of this article.

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