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Q&A | Ashley Atkins of the Joslin Pediatric Clinic

Ashley Atkins of the Joslin Diabetes Center pediatric clinic

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ashley Atkins, R.N., M.S.N., C.P.N.P., joined Joslin as a pediatric nurse practitioner a year ago. Here she answers five questions about her professional background and what day-to-day life is like in the Joslin pediatric clinic.

What brought you into healthcare?

My dad is a retired ob/gyn, so I’ve been surrounded by medicine my whole life. He truly loved his job. I’ve never heard him complain. Oddly enough, he told me never to go into the field!

Math was always my strong subject and I thought I’d be an actuary. I’d just deal with numbers all day long and that would be good. But then I decided I didn’t like the business aspect or being in a cubicle. When I was at Harvard I realized I could be a pediatrician, so I started doing the pre-med requirements.

I knew I wanted to work with kids.  You see them on the street and they make you smile. They are so innocent and honest and they’ll tell you just how they feel.

Why did you switch to become a nurse practitioner?

After awhile it didn’t feel like medical school was the right route. My mom introduced me to a family friend who is a nurse practitioner, and he was doing everything I wanted to do.

Being a nurse practitioner, I could spend time with the patient and the family, and focus on education, not just the pathophysiology. I really like the nursing model. We can take a holistic view, not just focusing on one illness but taking one step back and looking at the family and the environment and how that’s impacting the children. So I went to nursing school, at Yale University’s School of Nursing.

How did you get into specialty medical care?

The aspect of primary care I loved was the anticipatory guidance and the education, and the time I was able to spend teaching the families and the children everything I knew. But in primary care, you didn’t have a lot of that time with patients; it was a revolving door. I knew I wanted to do some sort of specialty.

After I graduated with my nurse practitioner degree, I worked at Children’s Hospital in Boston in a one-year fellowship with the palliative care team. It was the most amazing experience. I spent a lot of time with families; time was not an issue. I learned invaluable communications skills and how to just be present with the families during a difficult time.

What led you to Joslin?

At Children’s, I learned how much I was interested in chronic illness, and the Joslin pediatric clinic just put all my pieces together. It’s not just nursing but math; I get to look at blood glucose numbers all day long. I love looking at the patterns. And I absolutely love the education piece of it. I can spend an hour, sometimes two hours with a family if it’s needed.

I feel so fortunate to have had my training last year in situations like the one I came across today, with a young girl we diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during her visit. There’s a grieving process that goes along with this. It’s a new normal that patients and their families have to learn. Yes, diabetes is a chronic illness, but she’ll be able to live all her dreams. I like to try to do the best that I can to make that possible.

The families I’ve met are just so inspiring. Every day I’m in awe of how well they can balance their child’s quality of life and diabetes at the same time. They’re amazing.

What’s it like working on the Joslin pediatric team?

I was so impressed and continue to be impressed. It’s a true team. We have family support, endocrinologists, nurse practitioners, nurses, child life specialists, medical assistants, secretaries, nutritionists, research assistants and a phlebotomist. I feel that it’s just one big family.

I can knock on anyone’s door, and they will drop everything and help me. As a practitioner, it’s very reassuring to know that you have such great support from the entire staff, because that’s mandatory for success. Being able to bounce ideas off people makes such a difference; it provides better care because one person can’t do it all.

It’s also great that so many clinical trials are happening here. Many of our patient families are very savvy about all the research that’s out there, so having knowledge and hands-on experience with some of the trials is huge.

Ashleny Atkins of the Joslin Diabetes Center pediatric clinic

Page last updated: April 23, 2014