The saying, “Do what you love, and you’ll never work,” describes how Judy Lewis, co-chief pediatric nurse anesthetist, has often felt about working in pediatrics. After graduating from college, Judy began working in a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) as a registered nurse. PICU provided the adrenaline rush she craved, along with the compassion she wanted to give to the young and the weak.
“I fell in love with the children,” she said. “The more challenging the cases, the more rewarding it was for me professionally and personally.”
Judy has always felt a gentleness toward animals and humankind. As a child, she participated in a 4-H club, raising rabbits and a horse at her parents’ 10-acre home near the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Her mother, a homemaker who valued education, saw this in Judy and encouraged her to become a nurse.
By chance, 2 of Judy’s childhood friends had mothers who worked as nurse anesthetists. They influenced Judy’s decision to pursue her master’s degree and become a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), providing anesthesia to children. Even though she wouldn’t spend much time with “awake” patients, she liked caring for children before, during and after their surgeries while working in busy operating rooms.
Additionally, Judy used her pediatric anesthesia experience during 9 separate medical missions to Chile. Originally recruited by Dr. James Lehman, Children’s Craniofacial Center founder and former chief of plastic surgery, Judy volunteered with Operation Sunrise, which provides life-saving reconstructive cleft surgeries.
2020 Magnet Nurse of the Year nominee
The nurse anesthesia field has allowed Judy to broaden her reach beyond the operating room. It’s given her the opportunity to educate and mentor other people and contribute to improvements in and research around pediatric postoperative pain managements and quality initiatives in pediatric anesthesia.
Her impact at Children’s was recognized in July 2020 when she was awarded Children’s Magnet Nurse of the Year nomination. The award is tied into the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s national award program and recognizes the outstanding contributions of clinical nurses in one of 5 Magnet model areas. Judy earned the nomination in the Magnet model area of exemplary professional practice, particularly for the way she responded to the changing dynamics of health care, including those caused by the pandemic.
For example, COVID-19 caused many obstacles in how to care for COVID-positive patients. Judy worked with the anesthesia team to create protocols and gather supplies to keep them safe during surgical cases or wherever the anesthesia team was needed. Another example, said Betsy Kendrick, clinical nurse specialist and Judy’s nominator, was Judy’s COVID-19 response team participation, citing a video that Judy helped to make about personal protective equipment in the perioperative setting.
Judy credits Children’s culture and an atmosphere of kindness with allowing her to contribute and make a difference.
“There are so many talented nurses here,” she said. “It’s the kind of place where I’ve always wanted to come to work. It’s a congenial, pleasant place to work with outstanding co-workers.”
On March 19, Judy retires after a health care career that spanned 42 years, the last 23 in pediatric anesthesiology. But she isn’t leaving health care altogether. Instead, she’ll focus on academia. Judy is a faculty instructor and interim assistant program director in Case Western Reserve University’s nurse anesthesia program. She also plans to enjoy her family, 3 dogs, garden and volunteer activities.
What brought you to Children’s?
I worked as an RN at University Hospitals before going to graduate school for my CRNA degree. The summer I graduated, I was hired by Dr. Mark Diluciano, chair of the anesthesia private practice group that supported Children’s.
What was going on in your life then?
Within a 3-month period, I earned my master’s degree, passed the national boards, remarried and started a new job. I was also raising my 4 children and 2 stepchildren, ranging from age 5 to age 16. It was a fun, but crazy, time!
Have you always worked in the same department and role?
For 14 years, I worked at the private practice anesthesia group before we became employed by Children’s 9 years ago. When I started, we did between 4,000 to 5,000 surgeries a year. Last year, that number was approximately 19,000 surgeries.
When Children’s opened the heart center in 2001, I became chief cardiac CRNA. Later, I became a co-chief CRNA in 2008. So many duties fell under that umbrella, including creating an orientation pathway for new CRNAs and serving as a mentor and precept to CRNA students.
What have your biggest contributions been while here?
There have been several, ranging from being a co-chief CRNA to being the CRNA who started the anesthesia heart program along with Dr. Ross Agnor, pediatric anesthesiologist, in 2001. I’ve also remained actively involved in hospital-wide initiatives, professional organizations and committees.
Do you have any advice for people just starting at Children’s?
Embrace our culture. You would be hard pressed to find any place better.
What couldn’t you live without?
My family and friends. COVID-19 has certainly shown me how hard it is without them.
What’s the last book your read?
“How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi.