Nurse finds her dream team in the emergency department




Hannah Kalk: “The ED is not a place you can be on your own. You have to rely on other people. If you are trying to do it by yourself, you’re probably going to drown.”

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer,

Hannah Kalk followed in the footsteps of her mother on her path to becoming a nurse.

Kalk, an emergency department nurse at Riley Hospital for Children for nearly seven years, didn’t go into labor and delivery like her mom, but she developed the same passion for her job and love for her patients as Shelly Fenker still has more than 30 years into her career at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital.

“She loves taking care of patients,” Kalk said about her mom. “Hearing the other nurses talk about her, you know she’s who you want in an emergency, which is how I want to be. I want to be that person you want when things are going south.”

By all accounts, she is.

Tyler Hostetler, day shift coordinator/associate administrator for Riley’s Emergency Medicine and Level 1 Trauma Center, said Kalk is an integral part of the nursing unit, especially in the role of helping lead the team as a weekend option team member.

“Hannah is a dependable charge nurse, a wealth of knowledge and an excellent teacher,” he said. “She is always looking for better, innovative ways to deliver care for our patients. Her contribution to our department is invaluable.”

Nettie Wilson, clinical manager for the ED, describes Kalk as an expert in trauma, leadership, clinical work, innovation and mentorship.

“The list goes on and on,” Wilson said. “Hannah is a fabulous nurse. She is a go-getter, wanting to learn as much as she possibly can to better care for our patients. She is a strong leader as a charge nurse in the ED and in her role in trauma evaluations. And she strongly exhibits our value of team in her interactions with her peers and colleagues.”


Things in the emergency department move fast, but after spending five years working in an adult hospital ED previously, Kalk understands just how important her role at Riley is in not only triaging patients but caring for parents as well.

“I love the ED, and I love it here at Riley. The kids are fun and they’re tough.”

Kalk, who played volleyball on scholarship at East Carolina University, appreciates the teamwork of the ED.

“I grew up playing sports. You go through a lot as a team and become closer. In the ED, you go through a lot of experiences – we call it a trauma bond – and you rely on each other,” she said.

“The ED is not a place you can be on your own. You have to rely on other people. If you are trying to do it by yourself, you’re probably going to drown. It’s such a fast-paced environment.”

As happens in an emergency, Kalk and her colleagues don’t always know what is going on with a child when he or she comes into the ED.

“You get a brief idea of why they’re there, but the child might not be able to tell you anything. It’s sometimes a mystery, like a puzzle.”

She appreciates the challenge of putting the pieces of that puzzle together, with help from parents and other first responders.

“I like interacting with parents. They are usually scared or frustrated if they feel they’re not being listened to. They want to be heard, and I like making them feel better, or at least more comfortable knowing that if their child is really sick, we’ve got them in the best place possible and we’re going to take care of them.”


As a mother of two active boys, ages 3 and 5, she can relate. She’s had to take both her sons to the hospital in the past and says she wouldn’t consider going anywhere but Riley if they needed anything more than what an urgent care center could provide.

“It’s the best place to be,” she said, recalling how one of her sons smiled through much of his emergency room experience when he needed stitches, because the team, including child life specialists, eased his fears, communicated with him on his level and distracted him with toys.

Kalk, whose husband is in law enforcement in Hancock County, works weekends, but she puts in plenty of hours during the week serving on numerous committees and councils.

“I am bad at saying no to things, especially if it interests me, which is a lot,” she said, with a smile.

She worked on the department’s sepsis initiative, chairs the ED’s professional practice council and sits on the Riley PPC as her department’s representative. She’s also on the education council for the ED and is part of the ED operations work group, which is always looking for ways to improve patient flow.

“That’s one of the reasons I love the ED so much,” she said. “There’s this constant work toward improvement. I’m involved with several initiatives in the department, so I see how committed our physicians and our nursing leadership are.”

Not just when it comes to caring for kids, but also caring for staff, she said.

“A lot is out of their control, but there is a tremendous amount of that kind of work going on that I appreciate, and I enjoy being involved.”

And if her weekend shifts at the hospital, committee work and busy family life aren’t enough, Kalk is also in school, studying for her nurse practitioner license in pediatric acute care.


One of the hardest things about working in the ED is not knowing what happens to patients when they go into surgery and/or are moved onto an inpatient floor.

“You see families on their worst day, and then you don’t get to see them later maybe when they are doing better.”

Sometimes, though, they make a special effort to follow patients who have left the ED, she said, recalling one patient who came in with a serious dog bite. She was able to follow up with him the next week and was thrilled to see that Riley plastic surgeons had worked miracles on his little face.

Reuniting with the patient’s mom in that moment was particularly cathartic too, she said.

“Families spend so much time with the nurses upstairs. We just have a few minutes with our patients, but it’s nice to see the follow-up.”

She laughs when she remembers a teen who promised her Chick-fil-A when he got out of surgery a while back.

“I’m still waiting on that kid to bring me Chick-fil-A.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,