Shepherd’s Tammy King lands new prize

For her efforts at raising standards — as well as her overall leadership at the Shepherd Center — Tammy King has been awarded the first Executive Nursing Leadership Excellence award, sponsored by Mercer University.
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For her efforts at raising standards — as well as her overall leadership at the Shepherd Center — Tammy King has been awarded the first Executive Nursing Leadership Excellence award, sponsored by Mercer University.

The AJC’s Executive Nursing Leadership Excellence award, sponsored by Mercer University, was presented at May’s Celebrating Nurses event.

Tammy King has been on a mission since assuming the top nursing job at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center in 2008.

She has been raising the bar for the rehabilitation hospital’s nurses, and, with it, the potential for more peace of mind for Shepherd patients.

In her role as Shepherd’s chief nursing executive, King has mandated that all nurses obtain national certification, preferably as a rehabilitation registered nurse (CRRN).

About 170 nurses – or roughly 70 percent of Shepherd’s nursing staff – have added this certification.

“It validates what’s special about our nurses and acknowledges that they know how to take care of a patient with a brain injury, spinal cord injury or other neurological diseases,” King said.

For her efforts at raising standards — as well as her overall leadership at the Shepherd Center — King has been awarded the first Executive Nursing Leadership Excellence award, sponsored by Mercer University.

She was surprised with this prestigious new award during The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s annual Celebrate Nurses program and luncheon May 9.

“The award is very humbling, and it means a lot to me,” King said.

At the luncheon, she was heaped with praise.

“Shepherd would not be what it is today without Tammy,” said Jamie Shepherd, a member of the hospital’s board of directors and director of the transitional support.

Chet Bhasin, Shepherd’s chief operating officer, calls King “a textbook example of a nursing executive who makes things happen.”

In her years at Shepherd, “she has compiled a list of accomplishments a mile deep and a mile wide,” Bhasin said.

In a letter nominating her for the award, King was described as someone who, though deeply involved in administration, “has never forgotten the importance of those that provide direct patient care.”

“As a leader for nursing, Tammy isn’t a faceless entity booming updates and directives from the proverbial mountaintop,” the letter stated. “She is instead a warm and approachable individual that can be seen walking the halls daily.”

King, now a wife, mother and grandmother, was a little girl when she first declared her intention to become a nurse. And she and Shepherd have literally grown up together.

Shepherd was founded in 1975, and, the same year, King began working there part-time.

King graduated from nursing school in 1979, after briefly considering careers in special education and physical therapy.

But she kept being drawn back to nursing, and especially to Shepherd, now ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation’s top 10 rehabilitation hospitals.

King was first exposed to Shepherd in 1975, working there part-time while attending college.

“I liked the hands-on skills, the critical thinking skills in the trenches,” she said.

King began her Shepherd career as a patient care technician. She later advanced into other jobs: staff registered nurse, charge nurse, nurse manager, director and finally chief nursing officer.

She also wears other hats for Shepherd: director of Medical Program (Medical/Surgical Unit and Intensive Care Unit), director of Laboratory Services, director of Pharmacy and director of Respiratory Services.

Like King, Shepherd has steadily advanced.

Starting as a six-bed hospital rehabilitation unit, it’s now a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital, annually treating 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients.

Shepherd’s patients often face a wide range of issues, from changes in body movement and bowel and bladder habits to the loss of the ability to swallow and to make executive decisions, King said.

The mandatory certification she’s requiring assures both nurse and patient that the nurse has “the qualifications to do the assessment and implement care for our special population,” she said.

This is on top of 12 weeks of training each new nurse receives, King said.

“There is a lot of specialty knowledge that is required to keep a person healthy here and to prevent further complications,” she said.

King said she expects to retire in the next couple years and has many fond memories of her years at Shepherd.

“My proudest moment is when someone comes up to me and says: ‘I learned to be a nurse because of you.”


ABOUT THE AWARD

The Executive Nursing Leadership Excellence Award, sponsored by Mercer University, pays tribute to a chief nursing officer or chief nursing executive in a metro Atlanta hospital. This new award will be presented annually to an individual who has improved patient care and the nursing workplace through advocacy, vision and collaboration. (optional cut here.) The award seeks to recognize an exceptional chief nursing executive or chief nursing officer who also creates an internal culture that supports the professional development of all team members and “purposely identifies specific opportunities to serve and help them reach their potential.”

ABOUT THE JUDGES

The AJC thanks our judges, who volunteered their expertise, time and energy to select our winner

Marcus Downs, M.P.H.

Chief Executive Officer

Georgia Nurses Association and Georgia Nurses Foundation

Cindy Rubenstein, Ph.D, RN, CPNP-PC

Associate Professor and Associate Dean for the Undergraduate Program

Georgia Baptist College of Nursing of Mercer University

Dr. Kevin Williams, B.A., M.P.H., Ph.D

Assistant Professor of Healthcare Leadership

Penfield College of Mercer University

SIDEBAR: What is CRRN? Certification in rehabilitation registered nursing shows employers, colleagues, patients and the public a commitment to excellence in caring for people with physical disabilities and chronic illnesses. It indicates that the certificate holder is an experienced rehabilitation or restorative nurse who has achieved a level of knowledge in this practice area.