Stacey Howard, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston

RN goes ‘above and beyond’ as pediatric cancer nurse, colleague says

Stacey Howard didn’t always know what she wanted to do with her life.

She considered careers as an athletic trainer and counselor before deciding to become a nurse. And not just any nurse, but one dealing with pediatric cancer.

“She is committed to her patients and truly finds joy in being a part of their journey even in the tough times,” colleague Rebecca Weaver said of the registerd nurse. “Taking care of kids with cancer is not for the faint of heart, but Stacey does it with such compassion and ease.”

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.


STACEY HOWARD

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

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