That’s why Howard 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.
Weaver, an assistant nurse manager at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, nominated Howard for the award.
Weaver said Howard remembers the smallest details about her patients: their favorite television shows, their siblings’ names, their favorite popsicle flavor and how they like their port accessed.
“When she is not here, all of the patients and families ask where she is,” Weaver said. “She constantly goes above and beyond advocating for her patients and their care.”
Born in Albany in southwest Georgia, Howard grew up in metro Atlanta and aspired to be an athletic trainer after suffering serious knee problems. She started working with athletes while a sophomore at the University of Georgia but then decided she would prefer working with children. Exactly how, she wasn’t sure.
After graduating in 2005 with a degree in child and family development — and after a four-month outreach mission trip to Africa — Howard decided to pursue a degree in counseling. She was accepted to Georgia State University’s counseling program but was uncertain counseling was meant to be her life’s work.
Things became clearer while talking with her parents one night. Howard learned her maternal grandmother was apparently such a beloved nurse that she had babies named after her.
“It was really sweet and special, and that’s when I decided to go back to school for my nursing degree,” Howard said.
She started at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta as an intern while in nursing school and moved into a full-time job there after graduation. She spent her first seven years as an in-patient nurse in pediatric hematology and oncology, then shifted to the clinic as a solid tumor nurse for a better work schedule.
About two years later, she was encouraged to move into leadership as an assistant nurse manager.
“The way she led by example was truly inspirational — so much so that I applied for an ANM role after seeing the positive impact she has been able to have in the role,” Weaver said.
But Howard soon decided to return to the bedside.
“I went into leadership because I felt like I could support the nurses in a way that would enable them to provide the best care possible to the patients,” she said “And while that role is crucial in the hospital, I wound up really missing the special relationships and bonds that I used to have with the patients and families. I missed having patients that I could call my own.”
The married mother of two sons says she often encounters people who say, “I don’t know how you do what you do.”
“But, honestly, I love it, and the reason why is the patients,” Howard said.
She has patients ranging from babies and toddlers to teens and young adults, some as old as 26.
“The patients are so incredibly special, and I am just honored to be a part of this journey they are on,” Howard said.
To read about and watch videos of all honorees, please visit www.ajc.com/pulse/#celebratingnurses.
Pediatric cancer is a tough specialty, especially because some patients do not survive, Howard said. “We get that bad news a lot, and there are days when you can’t take it.” But Howard said she’s thankful she has a supportive husband and family to go home to. “They do a good job of loving on me or giving me space, whatever I need,” said Howard, who has been married 15 years and has two sons, ages 9 and 11. Great co-workers also help. “I love my job, and I think I choose it because of the patients. But I keep coming back every day because I have wonderful co-workers,” she said.
READ ABOUT THE OTHER AWARD RECIPIENTS
Nurse leader Millie Sattler, Emory Healthcare
Terri Holden, Piedmont Cartersville Medical Center
Rita Ford, Northside Hospital Gwinnett
Brandie Christian, Northside Hospital Gwinnett
Kathleen LePain, Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center
Lisa Treadwell, Piedmont Eastside Medical Center
Kellie Mitchell, Wellstar Paulding Hospital
Mark Lee, Emory University Hospital
Janet Rollor, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital
Anna Paller, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital