Why I Love My Job: Walter Howell, RN, MSN, MBA

Job: Director of Women’s Services, South Fulton Medical Center in East Point.

What I do: “I have administrative and clinical oversight for all women’s services, including labor and delivery, mother/baby and our new neonatal intensive care unit. At the moment, we’re a Level II NICU, but we’re moving to a Level III in a few weeks. I have a total staff of about 50.”

How I got into this: “I was a biochemistry major at Jefferson State Community College in Birmingham, and needed to make some tuition money. I saw a job notice for a nursing assistant at Baptist Medical Center. The nurses there told me I’d make a good nurse and encouraged me to switch majors. There was a shortage of nurses, so I got scholarships.

“In nursing school, I loved working in the nursery best. My first job was in the neuro ICU, but I soon found a job in women’s services. I’ve been a nurse for 33 years, working at various hospitals, and also teaching nursing for the Medical College of Georgia in its Athens program.”

Best part of the job: “The people I work with. A lot of the leadership is new. They care and they do a really good job.

“I was with South Fulton when it went into bankruptcy in 2001, and I was hired back six months ago. We’re in a rebuilding phase and reinventing this hospital, so it’s an interesting time to be back here. I still love clinical nursing, so when the staffing gets crunched, I help out in the nursery.”

Most challenging part: “Staffing. We have a roller-coaster census. It’s a lot like an emergency room, because you never know how many patients you’ll have.

“Two weeks ago, we had one patient. A nurse needed something that I had in my office, so I walked down the hall to get it. When I got back, we had seven patients. Three had come in by ambulance.

“You have to have people ready to go. Trying to balance quality patient care, productivity, costs and efficiency is always a challenge.”

What people don’t know: “You are responsible 24/7. You take the responsibility with you when you leave at night. My staff calls me. I have to make sure they have the resources they need, whether I’m there or not.”

What keeps me going: “I’m a Type A, adrenaline junkie. I worked with a transport service until I was too old to jump in and out of airplanes, and I wish I had a dollar for every mile I’ve traveled in the back of an ambulance.

“Administration offers a rush without being dangerous.”

Preparation needed: “The Joint Commission wants most nursing administrators to hold a master’s degree, preferably in nursing leadership. The degree helps, but you really need some years of experience.”

Salary: The median salary for a nursing director in the United States is $117,909, according to salary.com.

Got a health care job that you love? Please send e-mail to jbrieske@ajc.com.