Pauline Guthrie, Emory University Hospital

Colleagues say she leads by example, demonstrates care and compassion

Emory’s Pauline Guthrie “is kind, considerate, compassionate and caring,” charge nurse Marilyn Hurley said. “She is not only a patient and family advocate, but also a staff advocate.”

In 2009, she received the prestigious DAISY Award, which honors extraordinary nurses worldwide. In 2023, Guthrie and her unit were presented with the gold Beacon Award for providing high-quality patient care in a healthy environment.

Those are just a few reasons why Guthrie 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.

Not bad for someone who didn’t really plan to become a nurse until her 30s.

The Jamaican native said she was out shopping with her sister Georgina when a man approached them.

“Do you remember me? You took care of my wife,” he said, hugging her sister, who is a nurse. “I am so happy to see you.”

Such warm greetings weren’t unusual, Guthrie learned. Her sister said some families bring their nurses handwritten thank you notes and small gifts. Others pop in to say hi when they have an appointment elsewhere in the hospital.

Guthrie couldn’t imagine her financial clients responding like that. But the thought of it appealed to her.

“I walked away that night thinking I would like to be able to have a positive impact on others,” she said. Within a few months, she had enrolled in nursing school.

Guthrie’s second career began at Emory University Hospital in 2005 after marrying her husband, Donovan, and relocating to Atlanta from New York.

She has been with Emory for all but four years since then. During that time, she worked at two suburban hospitals, largely honing her leadership skills and putting into action her passion for being a servant leader.

Since 2021, she has been the director of Emory’s 24-bed cardiology unit, which diagnoses heart failure, myocardial infarction, dysrhythmias and other conditions.

Hurley, a charge nurse in her unit, nominated Guthrie for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Nurse Excellence Award.

Guthrie “leads by example,” Hurley said, including coming to work in her nurse’s uniform, ready to jump in at the bedside and support patients, their families and staff.

“She frequently says to her staff: ‘Together, we will make it work. Thank you for all you do in caring for our patients and families. Thank you for your hard work and dedication,’” Hurley added.

Guthrie said she believes it’s her responsibility “to ensure they have what they need to provide excellent care to all our patients. Not only do I have compassion for my patients, but I also have compassion for my team members. I always try to be that unit director or leader that I would want for myself.”

She is also a strong advocate for patient education, something she recognized as important while in nursing school. While still a bedside nurse, she started a discharge class on weekends for patients recovering from cardiac surgery and for their families. A side benefit was that it created a support system for the families.

The mother of two has three sisters who are nurses, but she insists becoming No. 4 “was never in my thoughts.”

In hindsight, however, it might have always been in her heart, she added, set by the example of her parents.

“We grew up with parents who were very nurturing and caring,” Guthrie said. “I think we got it from them, because all of us have gone into careers where we are helping people.”

Read about the other winners