Nurse of the Year devotes her time to the smallest patients

May 13, 2019
Wearing a mask and hair covering, Paulette Headden works with a tiny baby in the NICU
Paulette Headden was selected as the 2019 Nurse of the Year. She is a positive role model and works tirelessly at everything she takes on, according to the nominating form. Photo by Sarah Pack

Paulette Headden has spent 32 years in the neonatal intensive care unit and wouldn’t work anywhere else. Her colleagues feel the same way about her – she was peer nominated and selected as the MUSC Nurse of the Year.

Headden was surprised May 6 during the annual Nursing Excellence Awards ceremony to learn that she, out of all the unit honorees, had been selected to represent MUSC nurses.

“It’s very humbling. I am very much honored,” she said. But, she was quick to add, “I’m just one of many.”

Headden nearly didn’t go to the ceremony. She thought it seemed like bragging about herself to attend the event, which honored more than 70 nurses from MUSC Health and MUSC Children’s Health. Her supervisor, MaryLaura Smithwick, and her sister, Traci Ellis, who also works in the NICU, had to conspire to get her to St. Luke’s Chapel for the event.

portrait of Paulette Headden  
Paulette Headden. Photo by Son Nguyen 

On the nomination form, a colleague said that Headden is “a clinical expert and a diplomat” who is always willing to lend a hand and share her expertise. She is particularly skilled, the nomination read, at inserting PICC lines, tubes that are inserted into a vein to deliver antibiotics, nutrition or medication.

“While Paulette coordinates a team of nurses with this skill, she seems to always be successful and so is called upon frequently for this procedure. Paulette willingly goes to other units and places lines without hesitation. She comes in frequently on days off, holidays included, so that an infant or child will not have to go without proper IV nutrition,” the nomination stated.

That level of care and compassion can be seen in nurses across the entire enterprise. Executive Chief Nursing Officer Jerry Mansfield, speaking during the awards ceremony, said that when people ask him why he took this job in Charleston after 30 years in Ohio, they generally assume he’ll say it was the sun and the palm trees that lured him here.

In fact, he said, “during my interview process, I saw a level of caring and compassion that I thought was extraordinary.”

Headden said much has changed in the NICU since she first began working there. When she started, the fate of a baby born at 28 weeks was doubtful. Now, she said, these babies have very good prognoses. She was in the NICU when medical staff conducted a study giving babies surfactant, a substance that prevents the lungs’ airways from collapsing with each breath but that premature babies don’t produce adequately. Now surfactant therapy is standard, she said.

The NICU has also changed in its physical environment. It used to have bright lights and music playing, she said, but now they dim the lights. And while people talk in normal voices, the overall noise level is hushed.

Headden’s family was at St. Luke’s Chapel on Monday to see her accept the award, and though they wouldn’t have missed it, they didn’t have to go far to get there. Her husband, Gary Headden, is an emergency department doctor, and their three daughters are also at MUSC. Morgan Khawaja is pediatric chief resident, Kendall Headden is a first-year anesthesiology resident and Merritt Headden is a second-year College of Medicine student.

Besides her work in the NICU, Headden walks in the March of Dimes’ March for Babies, volunteers on the event planning committee of the Charleston County Medical Society Alliance, is an MUSC NICU safety coach, and serves on the NICU’s committees for shared governance, infection prevention, tender lung care, evidence and values, and the stabilization team.

2018-2019 Unit Nurses of the Year

group photo 
Unit nurses of the year at the nursing excellence awards ceremony at St. Luke's Chapel. Photo by Son Nguyen
Alicia Amon  8 East Medical Acute Care
Sheenique Bailey IOP - Acute Care Unit
 Ashley Banks IOP - Senior Care Unit
Laura Barlow Medical Intensive Care Unit
 Mindy Barron ART - CVICU
Sarah Bertram 7B - Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Sub-Specialty
Emily Biad ART - 7 East
Betts Bishop ART - Operating Room
Melissa Binkowski PACU
Christopher Blake  6 East Renal Transplant Nephrology
Nicki Brobst Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit
Kristina Brooks Children's After Hours Clinic
Erica Brown IOP - Addictions Unit
Yesica Chavez-Jurey Mother Baby Unit
Virgetta Cromwell Surgical Holding
Crystal Cronizer ART - 4 East
Samantha Diamond Pediatric Cath Lab
JoAnn Drennan Rutledge Tower - Peri-Anesthesia
Jason Ferro Ambulatory - Transplant Clinics
Lauren Fingar 7 East - Children's Hospital
Elise Flow IOP - Acute Care Unit
Ashley Fussner ART - 5E Cardiac Acute Care
Jennifer Giametta Ambulatory - Rheumatology
Karen Gilbert Pediatric ICU
Elizabeth Gilger Surgical Trauma ICU
Tamra Grant Primary Care
Cheryl Groves Radiation Oncology Hollings Cancer Center
Jessica Gulatsi Adult Emergency Department
Laura Gunter Ambulatory OR
Paulette Headden Neonatal Nurseries
Amanda Holseberg Healthy East Cooper
Shawn Jenkins Transitional Care Unit
Sandra Julian MUSC Health North
Elizabeth Karabin Operating Room
Patricia Kearns Radiology
Ashley Ketler 9 West Neurology / Neurosurgery
Chelsea King ART - 5W Specialty
Maria LaFon Ambulatory - Neurosurgery, ENT and Sinus
Carrie Laird IOP - Youth Psych/Inpatient
Al Lopez Mental Health - Eating Disorder Program
Amanda McAdams 6 West Trauma Surgical Services
Traci McClellan ART - Endoscopy
Lindsey McGarr Pediatric Cardiology Intensive Care Unit
George Metropolis Meduflex
Tanya Misyuchenko ART - 7 West
Amelia Mullins MSICU
Jaclyn Murphy Arold 10 West Trauma and Spine
Sheryl Naugle Ambulatory - Heart and Vascular
Pam Nobles Emergency Services - D Pod
Sallie O'Brien Ambulatory - Digestive Health, Endocrine & Metabolism
Casey Patton Ambulatory Resource Pool
Kelly Pelletier ART - 6 East DDC
Caryn Phillips Pediatric Emergency Room
Kevin Pinet ART - 3 West
Sarah Radford 9 East Neuroscience Unit
Amy Russell 7C - Pediatric Intermediate Care
Krystal Sams 8 West Med Surg
Sara Sampson Antepartum Gyn Services
Kate Seay Pediatric Cardiac Same Day
Nicole Shelley 8D Pediatric Cardiac Unit
Kinsey Shirer Specialty Surgery and Spine
Kendra Smith 7 West - Surgical Oncology
Krista Stansik Total Joint Replacement Unit
Cindy Steffen Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit
Michelle Tomevi Labor and Delivery
Audrey Wilder Pre-Op Clinic
Karen Wildes 7A - Infant Care Unit
Ashley Wilson ART - 6 West DDC
Lorena Wood Dialysis
Audrey Yera-Paez ART - Prep and Recovery

About the Author

Leslie Cantu

Keywords: Features, Pediatrics