‘I love the families, I miss them when I’m not here’
Tiny patients and their families have NICU nurse Susie McSwain’s heart.
NICU nurse Susie McSwain doesn’t like the spotlight, but she couldn’t avoid it last week. The 30-year nurse at Riley Hospital for Children was honored by her peers with the Margaret Martin Award for her dedication to the profession and the families she serves.
It’s an award that leaves her humbled, and she’s quick to point out others she believes are more worthy. But better than the award was the chance to meet Martin herself. The 99-year-old Martin was seated in the front row, and McSwain took a detour off the stage to give the older retired Riley nurse a hug.
“It was an honor to actually be able to meet her,” McSwain said.
Martin began her nursing career in 1942 and came to work at Riley in the 1970s. Before she arrived, it was standard practice for parents to drop their sick children off to a nurse at the front door of the hospital, then leave. They were not allowed to stay with their children.
“I always thought how difficult it must be to have a child in the hospital and not be able to stay with them,” Martin said in a video that aired during the Riley Nursing Excellence Awards Program.
She would go on to help launch the parent care unit at Riley, the first of its kind in the U.S., which allowed open visitation and in-room sleeping arrangements.
McSwain has the same kind of love for her job that Martin had for hers. It’s always been more than a job, she said. “It’s a passion. I love the families, I miss them when I’m not here.”
One of her favorite things to do when meeting the parents of a patient for the first time is to ask them about their love story.
“I like to hear how they got together,” she said. “And sometimes they need to talk about things other than their sick baby.”
Those connections, combined with excellent bedside care, endear her to patients and team members.
“She embodies everything you want in a teammate,” wrote Carrie Gorski-Murphy in nominating McSwain. “She is engaged, knowledgeable and a fantastic resource. She’s a role model and strong advocate for her patients and for the nurses on the unit. She’s an incredible mentor, always going above and beyond for her peers. ... This job is her passion and she has made it her mission to lead by example.”
McSwain and her husband, Brian, have four children. Two daughters are following McSwain’s path into nursing. One works in the CVICU already, and the younger one is a senior in nursing school and hopes to join the Riley team. The couple’s son is a pharmacist, and another daughter is in healthcare research.
Also nominated for the Margaret Martin Award were Jason Burnham and Amanda Bell, both nurses in the PICU.
Liz Linden, chief nursing officer for Riley, told the nurses gathered for the annual awards ceremony that the recognition is rarely about the clinical care they give. “It’s always about the difference they make in patients’ lives by the care and the compassion that they bring.”
Winners always say “I was doing my job,” she said, “but the reality is it’s who you are as a nurse – it’s what you give to the people you take care of every day.”
Other winners recognized last week include: Kristy Mattingly, nurse excellence award; Lisa Woods, partner in care award; Darcie Nation, preceptor award; Kortni Haupt, Brittany Gaskins Scholarship; Katie Collier and Marta Anderson, Sid and Deb Zachary Scholarship; Courtney McClendon, Marilyn Cox Scholarship; and Carrie Davison, Daisy Nurse Leader.
In addition, monthly Daisy Award winners for 2018 and Riley Children’s Foundation scholarship winners were honored.
– By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist