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Tracey Vitori’s Story

“I Am driven by discovery

Assistant Professor Tracey Vitori

For over 32 years, Tracey Vitori, an assistant professor in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s College of Nursing, has been advocating for her patients’ well-being. Her professional journey started as an undergraduate in prepharmacy, but Vitori shifted into nursing after witnessing her grandmother’s battle with breast cancer.

Vitori has worked with all types of patients—cancer, pediatric, critical care flight, and international—but it was not until she started working in cardiac surgery that she finally found her niche.

“I am most comfortable in the critical care area,” she said. “The vulnerable time of waiting for and recovering from cardiac surgery is extremely stressful for patients. It is here I feel I make the most impact.”

Vitori still dedicates her time to cardiac patients, but she works now from a different angle—that of a researcher.

“How do you impact more than just the few patients you see every day?” Vitori asked. “How can you scale to improve more lives? For me, it was through research and impact more patients through outcome-driven research.”

Vitori’s research focus is on survivors of cardiac interventions, including surgery—primarily patient-reported outcomes following a cardiac event, intervention, or surgery and the quality of recovery.

“Understanding the unforeseen complications after surgery and the impact to quality of life long term—that needs to be explored and is the angle I want to pursue,” Vitori said. “Many times, it is the unforeseen complications that have the most debilitating impact.”

“Most hospitals define successful outcomes or quality indicators in terms of days on a ventilator or how many days in the hospital—mostly financial, unfortunately missing the experience of the patient,” Vitori continued. “This is a missed opportunity and something patients are willing to share. Wouldn’t it be helpful to understand how patients define a quality recovery?”

Currently Vitori is developing a study that looks at how patients describe their recovery and return to prior meaningful activities after a cardiac event, with very direct questions about their recovery process.

“I don’t think we understand how the patient defines their quality of recovery,” Vitori said. “This information may offer new insight and influence conversations regarding their healthcare priorities, improve decision making, and set realistic expectations to support a patient’s meaningful recovery.”

Although Vitori focuses on cardiac patient research, understanding how patients define recovery has a much wider importance.

“It’s important for community members to understand that when you go into a facility you have a voice and ask questions until you really understand what this service, surgery, or intervention really means to you,” Vitori said. “It’s really just having the right conversation, the most meaningful conversation, and that you understand and make an informed decision about your health care.”

In an earlier study, she looked at psychological distress in patients after cardiac surgery and found that recovering patients’ hostility triggered caregiver hostility.

“Not only does the patient have their own sense of well-being, but it impacts the caregiver as well,” Vitori explained. “It really comes back to information and how we communicate that information.”

By understanding how patients define a meaningful recovery, Vitori hopes organizations can  improve decision-making and patient-reported outcomes.

“Being able to share the patient experience will hopefully develop avenues for measurement on how we’re aligning with patient values and their defined meanings,” she said.

Embracing the Volunteer fighting spirit, she continues her efforts to drive patient care and empower patients.

“It’s OK to ask a question, it’s OK to clarify,” she said. “Understanding what’s meaningful to you and what’s going to happen long-term for you is important, and you have to ask the questions.”

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Contact: Diane Carr Tolhurst (865-974-7603, dcarr9@utk.edu)