“It’s about doing the best for our patients”




Riley’s nursing excellence award goes to a 16-year veteran of the hematology-oncology unit.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Joy and sorrow are equally at home some days on 5W at Riley Hospital for Children.

As a nurse for 16 years on the night shift in the hematology-oncology unit, Julia Williamson knows those feelings perhaps better than most.

She holds the stories of loss close to her heart, but it’s the joys that keep her coming back – the joy of learning, of serving and of being part of a team of dedicated caregivers.

“Five West is honestly just a fabulous place to work,” she said. “It’s where I started, and I wouldn’t consider working anywhere else.”

It’s the team support she appreciates so much.

“I would say our teamwork is second to none. No one ever lets anyone else struggle or drown. Everybody jumps in to help.”


Williamson was honored with the nursing excellence award during the Riley nurse awards ceremony last month.

The award recognizes her “exemplary leadership in advancing patient-centered care through nursing practice, developing innovative solutions and advancing the profession of nursing,” according to the nomination letter.

While working on a cancer unit brings its share of grief, Williamson said she sees a lot more happy moments than sad, especially when kids can ring the bell and leave after their last chemo treatment.

“Those are the moments we like to focus on, but seeing past families who have lost a child come back and tell us how we helped them through it is what keeps us going.”

She carries the memories of those patients with her. They remind her why she does the work she does.

Because she’s been on the unit for 16 years, she also gets to see things come full circle more and more. She hears about former patients who are now getting married and having kids. Seeing that the care she and her colleagues gave helped get them to that point is something she likes to remember on hard days.

In fact, one of her close friends was a patient at Riley many years ago and is now a nurse herself.

“When I’m taking care of patients, it crosses my mind that years from now they are going to be in someone else’s life because of the care our unit gave,” she said.


Williamson remembers her first time on the unit when she came to shadow another nurse.

“I remember everything about that day, down to the scrubs I had on. I think I still have those scrubs in the attic. I knew from the first day that I was in the right place.”

She started out as a new grad working nights and has kept that shift, despite opportunities to move to days, because it works out well with her family’s schedule.

Her husband, Andrew, works days, and their two sons, ages 5 and 8, have busy schedules of their own.

“I am a full-on boy mom,” she laughed. “We spend a lot of time on the soccer field.”

You can often find her still in her scrubs walking onto the soccer field for an early morning Saturday match. She usually works Friday nights and gets off just in time to make it to her boys’ games.

Working nights also gives her time to teach and mentor newer nurses, she said, something she has grown to love.

Williamson, who earned her nursing degree from Purdue University and is a loud and proud Boilermaker, is involved in multiple initiatives on 5W in addition to her clinical duties.

She serves on the education committee and the evidence-based practice council. She helped create and co-leads the Cancer and Blood Disorder Center Journal Club, which shares research articles and hosts discussions with fellow nurses to go over best practices.

“It’s about doing the best for our patients,” she said. “Is there something we can learn, something we need to change?

She is also in her second year of Riley’s Distinguished Nurse Program.


Williamson, who says she was afraid of blood as a child, originally went to college to study psychology. But after a while, she realized she liked the more hands-on medical side – anatomy and physiology.

“That part really clicked with me. I like to know how something works, why it works, and how we can make it better. That’s what drives me,” she said.

“I’m a little bit of a running joke on the unit. If someone asks me how to do something, I’m never going to give an answer that will mean less work. It will always be the right way, but it will never be the easy way. There’s always a better way,” she said. “There’s always something more, and our patients deserve that.”

And while she likes to fly under the radar and just do the work, it’s good to be recognized, she said.

“It’s nice to see that what I do and what I’m trying to work on matters.”

Her drive to learn more and do more on behalf of Riley patients and families is what keeps her coming back.

“They are in the hardest moments of their lives, and I’m there to do what I can to make it better. And when I can’t make it better, I’m there to hold their hand,” she said.

“Every nurse on our unit has a strength. Mine is, how can we give patients better care. Our profession is always changing, so we never stop learning. I think that’s one of the things I love best.”

Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org

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