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Bright Futures

Articles and Updates from Phoenix Children's

November 30, 2021
A Journey from NICU Parent to Critical Care Nurse Leader
Katie Penson

This will be the first holiday season where Katie Penson, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, and her family won’t have to bring out the snow shovels and winter coats. Her family has swapped frozen lakes and frigid mornings for prickly pear cactus and scorching summer heat.

In June, Katie moved with her family from the Twin Cities to Phoenix to serve as Phoenix Children’s Vice President of Critical Care Services.

The addition of Katie to the Phoenix Children’s family comes during a time of immense growth for the health care system, whose critical care services are expanding to additional locations as the Phoenix Children’s footprint grows.

Katie brings decades of experience to her new role, but she also brings a very personal connection to pediatric critical care as a mom — a time she said changed the trajectory of her life and her career.

A journey as a young NICU mom to NICU nurse

Years ago, Katie was only 25 weeks pregnant when she unexpectedly went into labor with her youngest son, Jordan. Katie and her husband Andrew, in their early 20s at the time, were suddenly thrust into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) world. The young couple had only ever been in the hospital once before, when they had welcomed their first-born, Edward, who was just three years old when his younger brother was born.

“We were babies ourselves and so naïve to what the hospital and what nurses really did,” Katie recalled. “It was actually kind of a blessing that we were so naïve, since we had little control over the situation.”

Jordan spent four months in the NICU, and it was during this time Katie was truly enlightened and inspired by the care team of nurses who surrounded her family.

“They were so supportive — just the way they cared for us,” Katie said. “They were so incredibly poised, present and professional.”

After Jordan completed his time in the NICU, he would return to that hospital several more times over the next couple of years in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). Because of the care required, Katie took time off of work so she could focus solely on being a mom, helping Jordan grow and thrive.

When it was time for Katie to return to work, she knew she couldn’t go back to her old career in management. She had to give back and help families and children – especially those with special needs. And it was then she realized her calling to nursing.

“I got a job as a nursing assistant while I was going to nursing school and just fell in love with it,” Katie said. “To be able to work with families and the camaraderie that comes along with nursing and the profession, I never once second-guessed the decision.”

Katie Penson and Son

A warm welcome to Phoenix and Phoenix Children’s

Katie spent nearly two decades at Children’s Minnesota, where she served in a variety of roles including patient care, nursing leadership and hospital administration, before coming to Phoenix Children’s. And while there’s always a transition moving from one health system to another, she said the nurses —and the doctors and staff — made that transition easier.

“As a NICU nurse, it’s a part of who you are,” Katie said. “These nurses and care teams put their arms around our families and equip them to help their little babies grow.”

Although Katie is no longer at the bedside, her focus now as the VP of Critical Care Services is to   make sure the staff, including respiratory therapists, doctors, nurses and support staff, are healthy, supported and feel good about what they do.

When asked what drew her to Phoenix Children’s, it wasn’t just the warmer weather— it was Phoenix Children’s commitment to the community.

“The connection the health system has to the people in the community really struck me,” Katie said. “We’re helping those in our community without voices and we’re advocating for them. We’re building a strong and diverse workforce, putting individuals in leadership roles who are at the pulse of what’s happening in our community. And, in turn, our community is supporting us. It’s really truly inspiring to work here.”

Along with Katie and her husband Andrew making the move to Arizona, her son Jordan, now 22, and his big brother, Edward, 25, have also embraced Phoenix as their new home. “It’s exciting for to watch the boys create their own paths here,” Katie said.

“The move to Phoenix is a testament that you never know why things happen, but there is always a plan — I believe it,” Katie said. “I believe our family’s time in the NICU showed us just how resilient these tiny babies can be; the will and strength that can come from two-and-a-half pounds is incredible. It also gave me a passion for nursing. Who knew then that we would be here today — but we are forever grateful.”

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