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2021 Charlotte Brody Award: Katie Wickman

Health Care Without Harm and the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments annually present the Charlotte Brody Award to a nurse who promotes and protects environmental health. Please join us in celebrating Katie Wickman, MS, RN, CIC, for exemplary environmental nursing leadership.

Wickman doesn’t cite a particular “aha moment” when she first became committed to environmental health. Her reverence for the Earth wasn’t established or developed, rather it was always there in a way that was inherent. She does recall, however, being encouraged to pursue her first large-scale sustainability initiative at her middle school, where she was rewarded with a Butterfinger candy bar for starting a recycling program and inspired to pursue environmental stewardship as a career.

While working as a nurse, Wickman became alarmed by how the environment she cared so deeply about also impacted human health. In her role as sustainability manager at Advocate Aurora Health, which includes 74,000 employees and serves 2 million patients, she found herself able to address issues upstream. Wickman led the health system to reduce the use of desflurane, an anesthetic that is detrimental to the environment. 

Since 2017, Advocate Aurora Health reduced their volatile anesthetic gas emissions by 75% (the equivalent of 21 million miles of driving), saving the organization $1.6 million. With her background in infection prevention, she led safer chemicals work, like phasing harmful chemical agents out of hand soaps and interior furnishings. This infection prevention expertise also led her to serve in a reporting role for the health system for COVID-19. Steeped in both clinical and environmental study, Wickman’s personal passion translated into transformative change across her health system, leading the organization in their mission to do no harm: “I help Advocate Aurora care for the Earth while they care for their patients.”

In addition to environmental sustainability action, Wickman lends her voice to Health Care Without Harm’s Health Care Climate Council. She has testified at EPA hearings for the Clean Power Plan and lobbied in Washington D.C. Wickman also works to integrate health system needs with community climate action in the Wisconsin Health Professionals for Climate Action

When asked about inspiring fellow nurses, Wickman cited Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”