Mark Lee, Emory University Hospital

‘Servant leader’ focuses his care on patients and their family

Mark Lee began his career in nursing at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital in March 2020, the same month the nation began shutting down because of the pandemic.

Others might have lamented the timing. But not Lee.

“Having worked at the bedside every week in the pandemic made it clear to me that this is what I need to be doing,” he said. “Caring for patients and families in a difficult time is what makes the job worth it.”

That’s why Lee was presented with an AJC Nurse Excellence Award on Friday afternoon, after being nominated last fall. More than 800 nurses were nominated, with 10 receiving the awards.

Growing up in multicultural Berkeley, California, Lee became interested early in the health of groups and communities.

Wanting to delve deeper into the subject, he received his bachelor’s in international development from the University of California at Los Angeles and his master’s in global health from Georgetown University. At Georgetown, he conducted research on child malnutrition in Chiapas, Mexico, which the university recognized with its 2017-2018 Exceptional Masters Student Award in Science.

Following in his parents’ footsteps, Lee felt a call to public service and, specifically, to nursing.

He attended Emory’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and is in his third year of working at Emory, where he’s assigned to the complex medicine unit.

“We get patients from everywhere, and it’s our job once they are on the unit to get them better,” Lee said. “That often includes patient education, helping them understand their disease, helping them get all their tests completed, and helping them get through the complex health care system and, overall, get them in tiptop shape to go home.”

Unit director Betsy Augusthy describes Lee as “the type of nurse who comes in early each morning ready to plan how he will make a difference for his patients, their families and his fellow nurses.”

But she said he never hesitates to adapt his plan of care as needed.

“His true compassion is perhaps best demonstrated by how he tailors his nursing care to the needs of his patients to provide patient and family centered care,” said Augusthy, who nominated Lee for this award.

An example of Lee’s compassion, she said, happened last fall. A cancer patient at the hospital desperately wanted to attend the Billy Joel concert with his family. After emphasizing to the care team what it would mean to his patient, Lee cleared the path to make it happen.

“The patient could not stop beaming,” Augusthy said.

She described Lee as a “servant leader” who has taken on several roles.

Chairing the hospital’s Exemplary Professional Practice Council and systemwide Emory Professional Nurse Practice Council, he has successfully championed efforts to improve medication safety, nursing workflow and nurse communications with patients, Augusthy said.

“Though I am a bedside nurse, through this work, I have been able to be a part of projects that have touched more than one patient at a time, working across my unit, hospital or even our health care system,” said Lee, who currently is a doctoral student of health care leadership at Yale University School of Nursing.

“I want to have the biggest impact I can,” he said.

Lee said his most satisfying days at work are those when a patient is sent home.

“They’ve been in the hospital sometimes weeks on end, and to see them come in on a stretcher and walk out with a smile on their face, it’s very special,” he said.

To read about and watch videos of all honorees, please visit


Mark Lee has received awards for his commitment to his patients and their families. These include the 2021 Georgia March of Dimes Healthcare Rising Heroes Award; the 2022 Emory University Hospital Structural Empowerment Nursing Excellence Award; and the 2019 Emory Alumni Association Herman Reese Community Service Award. The award from the alumni association is for his community service at the Center for Black Women’s Safety Net Clinic, a no-cost primary care clinic treating uninsured men and women in Atlanta.


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