Profiles of some of our area's top nurses.
A career in nursing can be quite rewarding. From direct patient care to educating and supporting not only those who are injured or ill but their families as well, nurses change lives. Memphis is fortunate to have many highly skilled nurses working for some of the nation’s top medical providers. Here, we highlight just a few whose daily work enhances the lives of cancer patients, burn victims, children with epilepsy, and others who require medical assistance. They strive to make Memphis a happier, healthier place, and for that, we salute them. — Shara Clark
Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital
Lai Brooks is director of Epilepsy Patient Services at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. She’s worked at Le Bonheur for more than ten years. In her current role, Brooks helps treat and coordinate care for pediatric epilepsy patients through Le Bonheur’s Level IV accredited comprehensive epilepsy program. She’s helped numerous families cope with the difficult diagnosis of epilepsy and has helped many children become seizure-free — the ultimate hope for epilepsy patients. Lai has helped implement daily nurse-led educational sessions — called Epilepsy Partners — which offer a chance for epilepsy families to interact and learn answers to common pediatric epilepsy questions.
Brooks earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee at Martin in 2001 and obtained a Master of Science in Nursing four years later from the Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, Mississippi. Just two years ago, she earned a Doctorate of Nursing Practice from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. In 2009, Lai became the first pediatric neuroscience nurse to earn the Rising Star of Clinical Practice award from the American Association of Neuroscience Nurses (AANN). She also wrote a chapter in the AANN core curriculum.
Brooks says the favorite part of her job is working with patients and families to help them better understand and cope with their child’s epilepsy.
Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis
There is no typical day for acute- care nurse practitioner Dr. Jane Thayer, but every day will find her caring for people. In her role as outpatient department manager of Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis’ Thoracic Transplant Services, Thayer, who holds a doctorate in nursing, provides leadership by example for an extraordinary team of healthcare professionals who care for heart transplant patients. Whether she is talking to a patient and family about a heart transplant or performing a physical examination in the clinic, she does it with care and compassion. When asked about her personal mission, Thayer says it is to contribute her best.
She raises the bar on excellence in nursing and realizes the value of linking education to experience. A lifelong learner, Thayer focuses on providing excellent and safe patient care, according to Teresa Dawson, executive director for transplant services at Baptist Memphis.
Thayer holds a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. She serves as chairperson of the Tennessee Nurses Association Advanced Practice Nurses Standing Committee (TNA) and is on the Board of Directors for TNA District One. She is also a member of the National Organization for Transplant Professionals (NATCO).
Firefighters Regional Burn Center at The Regional Medical Center
Peggy Simpson grew up in a family that encouraged service to others, and nursing provided her the perfect opportunity to do so. Simpson says she’s a “burn girl” after 25 years in burn care, but there was a time when her career path was uncertain. As a senior nursing student, Simpson had not yet found her niche, but that changed when her class toured the Firefighters Regional Burn Center at The Regional Medical Center.
“Every nurse has a niche — something [they] will be passionate about,” she says. For Simpson, it was burn care. She began her career as a registered nurse in the center. Since then, she’s served as burn nurse educator, assistant manager, and manager. As nurse manager, she manages day-to-day operations of the center, including a 14-bed inpatient unit and a burn emergency room.
In 2006, Simpson worked as a clinical research nurse at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Cincinnati on a groundbreaking project growing a skin substitute using burn patients’ skin cells. In 2010, she returned to the Firefighters Regional Burn Center.
Simpson describes their work as “emotionally and physically demanding” but also rewarding. She sets high expectations for herself and her staff and says, “I won’t apologize for it because that’s what you would want if it were your family member receiving care.”
Saint Francis Hospital- Memphis
Gayle King is clinical infor- matics manager at Saint Francis Hospital-Memphis. King has worked at Saint Francis for the past 30 years, first as a critical-care unit nurse manager, and for the past 14 years as a member of the hospital’s Informatics Team. She is also a member of the Patient Care through Technology (IMPACT) Team. Her clinical and informatics experience was key to the IMPACT Team’s recently completed and very successful hospital-wide HER implementation.
King earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Southern Mississippi where she was active in the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. Her love of nursing began when she volunteered at a navy hospital in Great Lakes, Illinois, where her father was stationed. She describes nursing as “not just a profession, but a calling.” She feels privileged to be part of the nursing profession. “It’s the caring and compassion that nurses bring to the bedside and to healthcare that makes a difference in people’s lives when they need it most.”
Gayle is married to Owen King, her husband of 39 years. Her extended family includes Shannon, a spoiled cocker spaniel. She enjoys camping, organic vegetable gardening, and traveling with her husband. Her passion is growing organic tomatoes.
Delta Medical Center
Suzanne Kuhn graduated from Methodist School of Nursing in 1988. Working on an oncology unit, she encountered a nurse who became an instant mentor. “Watching this nurse’s interaction with a breast cancer patient, observing her compassion and her ability to help this patient obtain both comfort and integrity, certainly helped me determine my career path,” says Kuhn.
Working in Home Health further solidified that direct patient care would be her strong suit. She received her certification as a Certified Wound Care Specialist in 1999. In 2002, Delta Medical Center approached her about managing their Wound Care and Hyperbaric Center. She was mesmerized as she witnessed how oxygen under pressure stimulates the body’s natural healing process. “I was amazed to find that the marriage of wound care and hyperbaric treatment accelerated healing incredibly,” she says.
Her favorite aspect of nursing is “observing the patients make changes in their lives as they concentrate on getting well and staying well.” Linda Martorano, chief nursing officer at Delta Medical Center, stated, “Watching a nurse grow into an advocate role is remarkable. Suzanne is all about the patient, and her combination of skill and compassion makes her one of our greatest assets at Delta.”
UT Health Science Center
Alice P. Nunnery signed up to serve on the Alumni Board of Directors for the College of Nursing at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) for “a trial period.” After more than a decade, she is leaving the board to be a liaison between her graduating class (B.S.N., 1971) and the UT Alumni Association.
Reflecting on the reactivation of the UTHSC bachelor’s degree in nursing, Dr. Nunnery says, “This reminds everyone of the important role of the bedside nurse in the delivery of health care. The nurse is the critical link between the patient and all the other health professionals. The BSN program is also important as an entry point into graduate nursing programs.”
Her most significant career accomplishment was organizing a cardiac rehab center at a physical therapy clinic in Murfreesboro. She set up a program of exercise, dietary counseling, and psychological support to help patients come to grips with their new “normal” and take control of their health again.
A lifelong learner, she earned a Ph.D. in English and taught college for 14 years, helping nursing students refine their research and writing skills. “Choosing the UT College of Nursing is one of the most important decisions of your life and career,” she says.
Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare
Melissa Evans, a clinical development specialist at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, started out as a medical assistant for a North Mississippi nursing home while attending nursing school. After receiving her associate degree from Northwest Community College in 1997, she began working at what was then known as Methodist Central in the obstetrics department. She later landed a job at UT Medical Group working with a practice specializing in infertility. She returned to Methodist in 2000 and has been there since, working in a variety of roles.
She now orients new nurses and is proud to have played a pivotal role in developing a residency program for graduate nurses straight out of school. The evidence-based program that was developed by Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare strives to increase job satisfaction and decrease turnover in the nursing profession. A pilot program at Methodist South was a huge success, and in January 2013, the program went system-wide.
“We tell our young nurses that even though you just graduated, you have just begun learning; nursing is a process of continuous learning,” says Evans. “It is the function of a nurse to be the patient’s advocate, and it is my goal to advocate for those nurses within my realm of influence.”
UT Medical Group
Kathy King is a family nurse practitioner with the UT Medical Group Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, where she cares for cancer patients and individuals with ear, nose, and throat problems.
With more than 15 years’ experience in head and neck surgical oncology, King is familiar with and attuned to the special needs of head and neck cancer patients, who often experience speech and swallowing impairments. Her knowledge of these challenges led her to found UT Medical Group’s Head and Neck Disease Support (HANDS) group. She also presents educational programs to elementary and middle-school students about the dangers of tobacco and offers smoking cessation classes for individuals who want to quit.
King is a graduate of the University of Memphis, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing and the Family Nurse Practitioner certification. She is a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, the American Society of Otolaryngology Nurses, and the Oncology Nursing Society. King has received multiple honors for her achievements, including Memphis Woman magazine’s “50 Women Who Make a Difference” award, the Excellence in Nursing Award at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, and the UT Medical Group Gold Standard Award. She was also a finalist in the community outreach category of the 2006 Health Care Heroes Awards, sponsored by the Memphis Business Journal.
Lakeside Behavioral Health System
Joy Golden, CEO of Lakeside Behavioral Health System, began her medical career in 1978 as the corporate human resources director for Methodist Healthcare and worked in human resources for various companies before acquiring a position at Lakeside. “After working several years in human resources in the healthcare field, I enrolled in nursing school to gain knowledge that would add value to my HR role,” she says. She then discovered her love of nursing and direct patient care.
Golden held roles as staff nurse, house supervisor, chief nursing officer, and chief operations officer prior to being promoted to CEO. She currently oversees the 305-bed acute-care and residential behavioral health hospital and directs activities of the facility’s 550 employees, working to develop and stabilize the nursing department and improve patient satisfaction. “Lakeside is focused on helping our community to understand and recognize the complexities associated with behavioral health issues and addictive diseases,” Golden says. She enjoys “the opportunity to be a part of a successful operation where direct patient care is involved daily.”
Golden serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Memphis, teaching Psychopharmacology and Nursing Legal Aspects in the Graduate Therapy and Nursing BSN programs. She was selected as one of the first board members of the University of Memphis BSN Advisory Board.