Rita Ford has a passion for affecting the lives of her patients at Northside Hospital Gwinnett in Lawrenceville. As a critical care nurse, she sees people at one of the most vulnerable times of their lives.
“I made up my mind that every day I wake up to go to work, I have to touch a life,” she said. “If I don’t do anything else, somebody must feel my impact. I want people to feel better because I’m helping them.”
That’s why Ford 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 nursing awards.
She has a special affection for senior patients. Before coming on staff at Northside, Ford worked at a nursing home for two years.
Recently, one of her older patients needed her time and attention beyond her medical duties. Ford said the lady had short-term memory loss and wanted someone to talk to. So instead of going in and out of her room, Ford created time to sit and listen.
The family expressed gratitude at how kind and considerate Ford was with their mother. Ford’s attentiveness to their mom gave them time to navigate her care with specialists and doctors.
“Not all angels have wings; some have stethoscopes,” the family wrote. “Rita was so considerate of our mother, making her comfortable with her joy and laughter.”
Ford also advocated for the patient and helped to create a health plan to suit her needs best.
Nurse manager Kelli Cox said the family’s letter brought tears to many of her colleagues at Northside Gwinnett.
Ford “anticipated her patient’s needs and was a professional steward of patient commitment,” said Cox, who nominated Ford for a 2023 Celebrating Nurses award.
Ford said this is how she treats all her patients, especially the older ones and those most vulnerable.
“I’ve discovered that each time I have these elderly patients, I have a bond with them,” the 38-year-old nurse said. “I don’t know if that’s my calling or what, but they touch my heart so much. I feel like nobody can care for them as I can.”
Ford grew up in Nigeria and immigrated to the United States with her family at age 24. As a child, she always wanted to be a nurse, she said, because it seemed to be a glamorous profession.
“When my mother was taking us to the hospital, all I wanted to see was the nurses,” Ford said. “Back then, they would put on a white dress and a white hat. To me, that was the best profession in this world.”
By the time she moved to the U.S., Ford had forgotten about her career goals, but she had a brother in nursing school who encouraged her to apply. Instead, she worked for two years as a nursing assistant to an older lady, who also told Ford she would make a great nurse.
After going to college and earning her degree, Ford’s first job was in a nursing home. She loved her job, but an encounter with Northside Hospital would turn her career in a different direction.
Ford gave birth to a preterm baby at Northside, and the infant stayed in the hospital for four months. While there, Ford said she saw how the nurses were selflessly helping patients and their families. After that, she decided to work in a hospital. Nursing is a calling, she said, not just a profession.
“I just wanted to do something like these nurses were doing, changing lives,” she said. “They’re not just normal human beings; they’re angels.”
To read about and watch videos of all honorees, please visit www.ajc.com/pulse/#celebratingnurses.
Ford has been a nurse for eight years and is in her third year at Northside Hospital Gwinnett. She is completing a master’s degree in nursing.
She lives in Gwinnett County with her two girls, ages 7 and 11.
READ MORE ABOUT THE OTHER AWARD RECIPIENTS
Nurse leader Millie Sattler, Emory Healthcare
Terri Holden, Piedmont Cartersville Medical Center
Brandie Christian, Northside Hospital Gwinnett
Kathleen LePain, Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center
Lisa Treadwell, Piedmont Eastside Medical Center
Stacey Howard, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston
Kellie Mitchell, Wellstar Paulding Hospital
Mark Lee, Emory University Hospital
Janet Rollor, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital
Anna Paller, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital