Kristine Mauldin is a pediatric registered nurse at Kennedy Krieger Institute, where she works directly with children and young adults with developmental disabilities and their families. Her inspiration and passion for nursing in this special population stems from more than five years of respite care that she provided for a young girl with cerebral palsy and her family, before becoming a nurse at Kennedy Krieger. That first-hand experience has positively impacted her both personally and in her professional career. She serves on the board of Maggie’s Light, a local non-profit organization helping to make a difference in the lives of Maryland families with children and young adults with special needs. Through this organization she also speaks to nursing students at local universities about disability awareness and the importance of holistic, patient and family centered care. Kristine is certified in developmental disabilities nursing through DDNA, the Developmental Disabilities Nursing Association, and is currently organizing a local Maryland Chapter for this national organization.
How did you find your calling as a pediatric, special-needs nurse?
During my undergraduate studies I provided respite care for a young girl and boy with cerebral palsy. It was during that time that I learned the most about myself and was inspired to pursue a career in nursing. Working within the family dynamic allowed me to gain valuable first-hand experience that could not be taught in the classroom or clinical setting. Having such an intrinsic understanding of people with disabilities and their families has enabled me to provide genuine holistic care to my patients at Kennedy Krieger Institute.
What are some of the common cases you see working in your pediatric setting?
At Kennedy Krieger we see many rare cases, so much so that that they seem almost common to us. On our inpatient setting we have a lot of children with cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, feeding disorders, and spinal cord injuries. Patients come from all over the world to receive the specialized care that we provide at Kennedy Krieger.
Did you find it difficult to get your foot in the door as a pediatric nurse? How did you do it?
It wasn’t hard for me because I had my heart set on working with children with special needs for many years. Through the respite care that I provided to families during my undergraduate studies I became a part of the special needs community. I had been to appointments at Kennedy Krieger with the children I cared for and I knew it was the place I wanted to work. In nursing school I completed my clinical practicum in a special needs setting, which also helped me to get my foot in the door.
What is it about working with pediatrics (or specifically pediatrics with special needs) that challenges you and fulfills you?
Many of the children I work with are non-verbal and although it can be challenging at times it really forces you to hone in on your ability to read non-verbal cues. This has sharpened my assessment skills tremendously, but most of all I find great enjoyment in being able to “talk” to my patients in a whole new way.
What are the most difficult aspects in being a pediatric nurse?
As a pediatric nurse you are not only taking care of the child, but their family as well. We are working with many parents who are grieving the loss of their child the way he or she was before the injury and this is difficult to watch. We are having to teach the families, who have cared for their child their whole life, how to care for them in new ways. Nurses are on the front lines and often times end up being an unintentional target for misdirected anger and frustration, while at the same time lending a parent their shoulder to cry on. Now that I’m a mother myself, this has made working in pediatrics that much harder. I find that I am constantly putting myself in the shoes of my parents and asking, “How would I feel if this were my child?”
What qualities do you believe a nurse should have to be an excellent pediatric nurse?
You have to have empathy for the patients and their families. You must be willing to see the family perspective as well as your own. Successful pediatric nursing must be family and patient centered. In special needs nursing specifically, you need to look at the entire picture including the patient, the family, the school, the community, the therapies, and the medical needs. It’s multidimensional and requires the dedication from every member of the team in order to provide effective holistic care. With this said, the pediatric nurse needs to be a team player, always willing to work with others to deliver the highest quality of care.
Do you have a heartwarming story you can share that has been one of your favorite cases you have had thus far (no identifying patient info, of course)?
There have been so many amazing stories in my career thus far, so I’ll just share the most recent one. I ran in the Baltimore Running Festival last month with team Kennedy Krieger, which was made up of patients, parents, staff and supporters who all came together to run, walk or cycle to raise money for our hospital. What made this race so special was that I had personally cared for some of the patients that were a part of our team. One patient came to us in a wheelchair and now I was running alongside him in the 5K. Another patient hand-cycled the full marathon. What an inspiration!!
Any final words of wisdom for nurses looking to transition into pediatrics or developmental/physical disabilities?
I’m really fond of the quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” We all have our niche in life and if you feel you have a calling to be a pediatric nurse and work with children with developmental disabilities, then you will do just that. Nothing is impossible.