After 42 years as a nurse at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), Karen H. Hlywiak, BSN, RN, is retiring effective June 2, 2020. Throughout her storied career, Karen has witnessed the evolution of pediatric care at CHOP – from her first days caring for ventilator-dependent patients in the ICU to her most recent days as an outpatient nurse care coordinator with the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition and the Center for Celiac Disease. Here, she answers a few questions about her career and what she'll miss most about her time at CHOP.
Question: Congratulations on your impending retirement. Can you tell us a bit about your nursing career? Have you always worked at CHOP?
Answer: I've spent my entire career at CHOP – in a variety of roles – and couldn't be happier. After I graduated from Rutgers University, Nursing, in June 1978, I started working in the Intermediate ICU at CHOP with long-term, ventilator-dependent patients. After a few years, I transferred to work on the inpatient units with general surgery and research patients. I became a radiology sedation nurse and supported patients undergoing procedures. And for the last 20 years, I've been an outpatient GI nurse.
Question: How has the role of nurses changed during your career?
Answer: When I started, nurses mostly worked in inpatient roles with patients who had a variety of acuity levels. Today, much of our work is with outpatients and there is a wide range of well and sick patients. But the change is deeper than where we work or the type of patients we see. We've seen a huge change in the number of specialties and fields of healthcare, advances in treatment and the development of true multidisciplinary team care. We treat the whole child, their condition and all their comorbidities. We work with the patient and family to develop a coordinated treatment plan.
Question: What's been your biggest challenge during your time at CHOP?
Answer: About 15 years ago, I was part of the team that created the Center for Celiac Disease: building the program, educating patients and families, and being part of the celiac team providing cutting-edge care. Teaching children and families about celiac disease and lifestyle adjustments was the most rewarding part of my career. I really felt like we made a real difference in our patients' lives. I've loved working with the initial Center leaders to build the program and more recently, with the expansion of care involving additional specialty care locations, with Lisa Fahey, MD, Arunjot Singh, MD, MPH, and Steven J. Fusillo, MD.
Question: What's been the most rewarding part of your job?
Answer: What I love about my job is talking to patients and families – helping them figure things out and helping the family understand the plan of care. Nurses have an amazing ability to make a real difference in patients' lives. Nursing is my passion and working with kids makes it all worthwhile. My job has been challenging, invigorating and fun. I love it.
Question: Was there anyone specific who helped shape the nurse you've become?
Answer: I had the benefit of so many mentors through the years – doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, registered dietitians, social workers, all my nurse managers and more. Two of my long-term nurse managers and mentors in GI were Michele Czyzewski, BSN, RN, and Susan N. Peck, MSN, RN. They played important roles in helping me develop as a nurse and navigate challenges over the years. They offered their support, encouragement and sage advice as I branched out with a new challenge or tried to navigate certain situations. Michele was my "go-to" person with any situation where I needed advice. Her mentorship helped guide and enrich my experience as the outpatient nursing role grew and developed over the years and into what it is today.
Question: What are your plans for retirement?
Answer: I'm planning some relaxing time this summer, reading, gardening and spending time at the Jersey shore.