Clare Smyth, Wellstar Kennestone

Co-worker says Smyth cares about patients’ quality of life

Wellstar Kennestone’s Clare Smyth cares not only for her patients’ health, but also for their quality of life.

For example, the 16-year nursing veteran recently made the challenging dialysis process go smoother and quicker for one of her patients. How? She helped him get health insurance, which allowed him to receive treatment at a regular dialysis clinic instead of in a hospital emergency department.

That’s why Smyth was presented with an AJC Nurse Excellence Award on Tuesday afternoon, after being nominated last fall. About 800 nurses were nominated, with 10 being honored.

“By advocating for this patient, Clare has helped him greatly improve his quality of life,” said Reuka Watkins, a nursing co-worker who nominated Smyth for the award. “This patient can now go to a regular dialysis clinic and not spend multiple days a week for hours on end waiting for dialysis through the ED.”

Smyth said she enjoys working in the emergency department, where there’s something new every day. Her journey to get there was not your average one, however.

As a high school student in England, she said she dreamed of being a doctor. She got in with the wrong crowd, however, and dropped out of school, she said, eventually working at a music store and then with an ambulance service.

By 24, she was ready to spread her wings, so she moved to Cobb County, where her family had lived briefly because of her dad’s job. A month after arriving, however, terrorists struck the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, complicating her situation.

She had to remain in school to stay in the country. She finished paramedic training at the now-defunct Medic School (her training in England didn’t transfer here), and was allowed to enter nursing school because of the nation’s critical shortage of health care workers. After graduating from Georgia Highlands College, Smyth worked her first two hospital nursing jobs in Cartersville and Jasper.

Six years later, she changed her focus to psychiatric nursing, working two years at the Cherokee County Jail and five years at a drug and alcohol detox center in Alpharetta.

“That is kind of a passion of mine — to help other people through rehab,” said Smyth, a recovering alcoholic.

In fact, one of her most fulfilling moments came when a patient she worked with in rehab returned on his one-year sober anniversary to lead an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. “That brought tears to my eyes,” she said.

It was four years ago when she started at Wellstar Kennestone’s emergency department and met the man Watkins saw her helping. The patient had no insurance or primary care physician, so Smyth found an ER doctor who could help him.

“It’s an awful way to live, to have to come to the ER for dialysis,” Smyth said. “They have to wait for hours.”

Smyth has been married for five years and loves attending concerts and traveling with her husband. She also loves exercising on her Peloton and hiking.

Read about the other winners