This nurse finds a way to connect with his patients

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He didn’t think he had the heart to take care of kids, but Nathan May’s heart leads the way in his work with young cardiac patients.


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

Nathan May has a gift that has nothing to do with the clinical skills he brings to the bedside as a nurse. May is a master at making connections with his pediatric patients in the Heart Center on 3 West.

With the babies, he taps into his music minor from college to sing lullabies. For school-age kids, he might talk about (or even play) video games. And with older teens, he can share the latest meme making its way across the internet.

Nathan May with patient

“I have a trick for every age group,” said the 27-year-old nurse at Riley Hospital for Children. “It’s an easy way to break the ice. School age is probably my favorite – I have nine nieces and nephews.”

He’s been known to match his Fortnite video game skills against young patients or dissect the latest superhero movie. He’ll play UNO with some or maybe talk trash about another’s favorite sports team. For one patient, he created a scavenger hunt with pictures of video game characters in the hallway to encourage the boy to walk.

May has worked as a nurse at Riley for just over a year. Before that, he worked with adult patients at a hospital in his hometown of Terre Haute, Indiana.

He chose to work on the adult side after questioning whether he was cut out for the pediatric population while a nursing student.

“I wanted to do pediatrics when I started nursing school, then I had my first couple of patients, and they made me really sad because we had to stick them and do labs and cath them,” he said. “I backed off. I didn’t think I had the heart for it.”

But he was good at nursing.

“I really liked science in high school and I like helping others, so it kind of all lined up. And I figured nursing wouldn’t be boring.”

May comes by his nursing instincts honestly. His mother was a nurse (she just retired), and his brother is a nurse. As a child, he visited Riley a couple of times and remembers riding the glass elevators and eating at the former McDonald’s in the hospital.

When he decided to move to Indianapolis, he landed multiple interviews at hospitals around the city, including two at Riley.

“I felt drawn to this place.”

Nathan May playing guitar

After shadowing for a day in the Heart Center, the decision was easy.

“I fell in love with the unit,” he said. “It’s kind of cheesy, but I knew this was where I belonged.”

And by the time he arrived, he said, “my feet were a lot wetter,” so making the switch to caring for kids was easier than he thought.

A year into his career at Riley, he said he loves his job and his patients. His next goal is to enroll in family nurse practitioner school next year, at which time he said he would have to give up video games, one of his hobbies.

Outside of work, he also enjoys reading fantasy novels and thrillers, working out, playing guitar and spending time with his girlfriend, also a nurse.

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

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