by Jason P. Smith
"I truthfully can’t remember ever not wanting to be a nurse – I think it goes way back to when my sister and I used to play doctor when we were little," said Kristen Sullivan, RN, charge nurse at Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center’s NICU. "I knew for sure that I wanted to head towards nursing around the 8th grade. And, that’s been my mission ever since."
Although no one in her family is in the health care profession, Sullivan said she jumped at the opportunity to become a candy striper along with her friends.
"That sparked an interest in me," she said. "I can’t remember ever wanting to do anything else."
Sullivan earned her BSN from the Univeristy of Northern Colorado in Greeley, graduating in 1994. Her career, however, has taken some "interesting turns."
"When I went to college I was geared for adult ICU and ER – that’s what I was working towards," Sullivan said. "But, I graduated in one of those eras where nursing jobs were hard to find and you couldn’t get a job.
"I was flown down for a job interview in Florida and when I got there they told me they didn’t have any jobs in the ER or the ICU, but asked if I would like a job in the nursery."
After accepting the job offer, Sullivan worked at Bayfront Medical Center and All Children’s in St. Petersburg.
"That was my first opportunity and I stuck with it for a number of years," she said.
After traveling for a couple years, working in NICUs "everywhere from Florida to California," Sullivan came back to Colorado. Wanting to try something new, Sullivan worked in the OR at Exempla St. Joseph Hospital in Denver for a year and a half.
"That was a great experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world," she said. "It’s really helped me even be a scrub nurse here, but after a year and a half there I knew being back in neonatal intensive care is where I wanted to be."
After her time at Exempla St. Joseph’s, Sullivan took a job at a hospital that wasn’t yet open – Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center.
"I came onboard before the hospital opened – wow, I can’t believe it’s been a year," she said. "What a wonderful experience. I was one of the original crew as far as our staff here. It was an awesome opportunity to be a part of that original team."
According to Sullivan, the perks of her job extend well beyond anything monetary or tangible.
"All the payment that an NICU nurse needs sometimes is the gratitude of the families that we take care of," she said. "In the past at other hospitals, parents would look you up a year later and bring their baby in for you to see and show you where they’re at now. It’s the best experience.
"That’s what keeps you going," she said. "The NICU is not always a fun place or a happy place to be – no one plans a pregnancy with the idea of spending several weeks in the NICU after their baby is born. However, it’s really an opportunity for us to take a very stressful situation for families who have babies in here and turn it into something positive."
Positive is also a word Sullivan would use to describe her experience with the opening of a new hospital.
"I love my job here," she said. "I get an opportunity to work with an exceptionally good group of people here – our physicians, our practitioners, staff and administration all work really well together as a team. The hospital is always about the patient, but it also works to take care of the staff as well."
Over the years, Sullivan has been a part of many new lives, but one baby she got to know a while ago still keeps in touch.
"I do have one particular family that still communicates with me, and it’s been nine years," she said. "I’ve probably worked at seven different hospitals since I took care of their son and they now live in Pennsylvania, but they were a family I cared for in Colorado Springs while working at Memorial Hospital. Every year they send me a card with pictures."
According to Sullivan, even the first patient in Good Samaritan’s NICU comes back to visit from time to time to visit.
"It’s really cool when they come back and you get to see them," she said.
As far as future plans go, Sullivan said she has no intention of going anywhere.
"I love the people here," she said. "I plan on staying here for as long as I work – I love it here."