Sunday Conversation with … Cheryl MacMillan

If you are unlucky enough to end up in the emergency room, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to get Cheryl MacMillan as your nurse. The March of Dimes Georgia Chapter has named MacMillan, who works at Gwinnett Medical Center in Duluth, its emergency care nurse of the year. All totaled, 16 nurses representing fields ranging from neonatal to women’s health to hospice were selected from 750 nominations for the nurse of the year honors. MacMillan has worked in emergency care all 16 years she has been nursing. Recently promoted to manager of the ER nursing staff, she talked about the highs and lows that come with her job and why the job fits her to a T.

Q: Did you always want to be a nurse?

A: No. Growing up I hated science. I hated needles especially when they were headed toward me.

Q: So why did you decide to go into nursing?

A: It was a process. My brother passed away when I was young. My grandmother was a nurse. My fondest memory of her was picking her up at the hospital on Christmas day and she was dressed in all white. My faith just grabbed a hold of me and said this is what you need to be to help other people.

Q: Why the ER?

A: It is a place that really fits my personality. I like to get up and go and do. The ER is a place where you see such a variety of patients, of illnesses, of events in people’s lives. I don’t have the same thing to do every day or even every hour.

Q: Sounds very stressful. Is it?

A: Not always. There are times when there are more patients than there are rooms to put them in. That is stressful when people are sick and you know you have to get them seen.

Q: What do you most like about your job?

A: The people I work with. They are really here to care for the patients. It also gives me an opportunity to work with patients and their families especially in critical events.

Q: What demeanor does an ER nurse have to have?

A: You have to be strong, caring and compassionate. We usually see people at the worst part of their life. They don’t plan on coming here. It sometimes throws their day off, sometimes their lives.

Q: You must deal a lot with death, yes?

A: We do. That is when you have to be strong. But you can shed a tear, we all have. You can go from one emotion to the next because you are going from one patient to the next.

Q: How do you prevent burnout?

A: In my job, identifying new opportunities to learn and take on new responsibilities. On a personal level, I seek out family time, exercise and occasionally even spoil myself with a manicure and pedicure.

Q: How does it feel to be one of the nurses of the year?

A: Honestly I was speechless and totally honored to be called out among a lot of great individuals.

Q: You were recognized in part for helping institute a system to prevent the mislabeling of specimens. What did you do?

A: We collect a lot of blood and other body fluids in the ER. I was the cheerleader for software technology used to label specimens. The software initially had a lot of challenges but we worked the kinks out.

The Sunday conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at

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