Portrait of Katie Smith
Although her workdays may be long and hard at times, Katie Smith, nurse practitioner, considers it an honor to serve patients alongside her colleagues in the Division of Plastic Surgery at UMMC.
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People of the U: Katie Smith

Published on Wednesday, June 24, 2020

By: Bruce Coleman

Although she admits it sounds a bit clichéd, Katie Smith’s motivation – the reason she gets up in the morning and shows up at UMMC every day with a smile on her face – is the opportunity to help someone in need.

“It’s all about the patient,” said Smith, a nurse practitioner in the Division of Plastic Surgery. “They are coming to see us on their very darkest day. They didn’t ask to be here. A lot of times it is a very devastating event that has taken place that has caused us to cross paths.

“Just hearing them say ‘thank you’ or ‘I appreciate you talking to me’ or ‘thank you for everything you did’ – just trying to lighten their burden – I feel like I make a difference in their lives.”

Since starting her professional service nine years ago as a staff nurse at University Rehabilitation Center, Smith has been making a difference in the lives of countless patients. At the time, the length of stay for the average URC patient was about a month, so in the early days of her career, Smith got to know the patients she served really well.

“You got to connect with them on a personal level and got to see them improve,” she said. “Some came in with devastating injuries and you got to see them regain their independence, and in some cases, actually walk out of there.

“It was really a joyous atmosphere when you got to see how their story ended.”

The news of URC’s dissolution was not easy to take – Smith was one of only two nurses who worked at the facility the last day it was open – but she had prepared for the closure. She had earned her B.S.N. at UMMC during her time at URC and she knew she wanted to remain with the Medical Center, so she had applied for and accepted a position as a nurse on 5 North, the orthopaedic wing of University Hospital.

She found her new job to be quite different, but the focus remained the same: to provide the best possible quality care for her patients.

“We would have major traumas that would come to URC – spinal cord injuries were what we mainly got,” Smith said. “Sometimes we would see them at a very acute stage of their spinal cord injury, but other than that, there weren’t very many similarities (to the caseload on 5 North).

“There were a lot of acute patients on 5 North. That’s where I learned the value of a team.”

The opportunity to consult with other health care professionals on illnesses that proved difficult to manage and to offer support for colleagues made an indelible impression on Smith.

“A lot of patients were in critical condition and were really sick, and you needed other nurses there to bounce things off of,” she said. “They kind of picked up the slack.

“You were never alone – there was always someone there to say ‘what can I do to help you? Let’s talk about it.’”       

According to her coworkers, Smith was a valuable resource herself.   

“Katie is a hardworking, sincere, genuine and loving person, which makes her an exceptional nurse,” said Brittany Manuel, ambulatory nurse at University Physicians Family Medicine Clinic on Lakeland Drive, who worked with Smith on 5 North. “She gives 100 percent to her patients and her caring personality transcends into great care.

“Everyone who is blessed to work beside Katie can testify to her warm spirit and bubbly personality. She’s a great friend and an endearing human being.”

While serving her orthopaedic patients, Smith earned her nurse practitioner degree in 2016 at UMMC. She passed her board exams and, after three years on 5 North, made another career adjustment – this time, as a new mother.

“I loved where I was on 5 North, I loved the people I worked with,” Smith said. “But I wanted a family, and I needed a position that was more conducive to having a family.”

Smith welcomed a baby girl into her family in 2017, then set her sights on returning to UMMC. She joined the Division of Plastic Surgery, where she could put her newly honed N.P. skills to work in a patient-centered, team-oriented environment.

“Plastic surgery deals a lot with orthopaedics and with traumas,” she said. “Everybody in my division is very close, everybody wants to see everybody succeed.

“If I had one word to describe my experience here, it’s teamwork. Dr. Peter Arnold (chief of staff and chief of plastic surgery) has a great bedside manner and is 100 percent behind his team. That’s very important to me.”  

According to Arnold, Smith is the consummate “team player” in Plastic Surgery.  

“Katie is an integral part of our team in both Plastic Surgery and in Inpatient Surgical Wound Care,” Arnold said. “Her dedication to patients and to UMMC is impressive to say the least. Much of the excellent care and continuity of care for our patients is provided by Katie.

“Her ability to put her patients at ease is something we should all strive for. Our patients regularly ask for her by name when they are in the hospital.”  

Smith’s current role at UMMC is as diverse as it is busy: While in the Division of Plastic Surgery, she also has responsibilities in general surgery and wound care surgery. A typical week may see her working in the plastic surgery clinic, rounding with wound care surgery patients and attending to basic surgery duties. Recently, she’s even begun working on a performance improvement project involving pressure injuries.

Although her workdays may be really long and hard, she said they do have a significant payoff.

“At UMMC, you’re constantly learning something new,” she said. “And there’s constant innovation, being on the forefront of research. We work with some really smart people here. It’s an honor to be in their company and to be associated with UMMC.

“I’m very proud to work here. Here is where the cream of the crop are, the best of the best, from housekeeping all the way up. There are some really great people who work here who are passionate about what they do. It’s just an uplifting atmosphere.”

All the more uplifting with Katie Smith on the job – and that’s no cliché.

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