Senior Catherine Ann Parker was a junior at Milton High School when doctors discovered four holes in her heart that had been there since birth. For the swim star who had her eye on athletic scholarships—it stopped her in her tracks.
“It was a big adjustment for me. I was just 15 and worried about how I would fit in socially,” said Parker. “It was something that I had to get used to, and the nurses at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta helped get me through it.”
Parker had open-heart surgery at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and spent three months recovering from the life-altering experience.
“It was a big life change, but what made it easier was getting the best care from the nurses at the hospital,” said Parker. “The hospital can be a scary place for kids, and they make it a lot less scary.”
Inspired from her time spent in and out of hospitals and doctor’s appointments, Parker decided that she wanted to go into health care to make it easier for patients like her.
“I have to go to the doctor’s a lot and some of them come in and out, and they barely talk to you,” said Parker. “I wanted to be that advocate for patients.”
When it came to selecting colleges, Parker started looking for the best nursing programs. After a tour of Georgia College and talking with some nursing faculty, she knew this was the place for her. During her time as a student, she’s had the opportunity to teach health education at the Boys & Girls Club in Baldwin County, work with underserved populations at the Daybreak Clinic in Macon and take a psychology class that involved working with Central State Hospital.
“I didn’t come to Georgia College close-minded, even though I grew up in such a suburban area where having access to doctors and hospitals wasn’t an issue,” said Parker. “But coming here has made me much more aware and appreciative of cultural and spiritual aspects of a community. Georgia College and the whole liberal arts mission emphasizes understanding and being able to connect to someone like a patient, and I’ve definitely taken that away from my time here.”
One of the most important aspects of Parker’s undergraduate studies is that she walks away with a firm knowledge of how to best advocate for patients in and out of the health care system.
“The biggest impact I had was taking fundamentals with Dr. Handwerker. When we would be in clinicals, she always taught us how to be respectful, what we’d be doing with patients and how to take time to explain processes and procedures with them in the busy hospital environment,” said Parker. “It was all about how we could make them as comfortable as possible.”
Parker’s experience at the Children’s Hospital of Atlanta left her with a 7-inch scar, but it also left her with the idea that one day she would devote her entire career to pediatric care. When it came time to start thinking of potential employers, Parker could think of no where better than the place that started her passion for health care.
“The Children’s Hospital of Atlanta is really competitive so I knew I wanted to apply a year in advance. I applied to the nurse extern program, and I got it,” said Parker.
After she worked in PICU at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, hospital officials reached out and said they needed dedicated pediatrics nurses—and Parker fit the bill. After graduation, she’ll join the hospital as a registered nurse.
“I know my personal story helps with my ability to connect to patients, especially kids,” said Parker, who uses her chest scar to show younger patients that she knows what it’s like to be a patient just like them. “I just want to be there for patients the way that so many other nurses were there for me.”