Bedside Nursing Excellence Award Winner


While in nursing school, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to have my pediatric clinicals on a congenital heart unit. I was instantly drawn to the challenge of caring for this specialized population of patients and their families. I was attracted to the intensive acuity and unpredictability of congenital heart patients and the ongoing journey of learning required to become competent as a bedside nurse. In addition to the dynamic flow of innovations, technological advances, and new research knowledge, it is the building of relationships with my team, patients, and their families that has kept me at the bedside for over 35 years. I am constantly humbled, amazed, and honored to care for our heart warriors at the front line.

Having been in leadership and now an educator for many years, I have been fortunate to still practice at the bedside, usually in a role supporting and growing our next generation of nurses, teaching them how to become a CICU bedside nurse. Qualities we look for to make a great CICU nurse include finding someone who is genuinely passionate about hearts, compassionate with patients/families, and, most importantly, smart. Congenital heart medicine is challenging, requiring vast knowledge and the development of complex critical thinking. Therefore, one of the most important pearls I have for junior nurses is to hold themselves accountable for live-long learning, personally seeking education and opportunities for growth. Education is empowering, leading to a fulfilling, autonomous practice.

My advice for young physicians working with cardiac ICU nurses would be to respect the education and experience required to become a CICU bedside nurse. Use veteran nurses as a resource for learning….for they have probably already “seen it and/or done it”. Work collaboratively and leave egos at the door. CICU care is hard; therefore, a cohesive team is critical. Lastly, my advice for young nurses and nursing students who are interested in a career in a pediatric CICU is to seriously contemplate the commitment needed to work in the CICU. It is more than just “loving kids” or thinking “the heart is just so cool”. Congenital heart nursing is difficult. There are definitely easier jobs out there from a mental, physical, and a psychological perspective. However, for me personally, none so rewarding. For when it comes down to it, I really love these kids…and, yes, the heart really is so cool.

Thank you,

Kelly Gray MSN, RN, CCRN

kelly gray

Kelly Gray

MSN, RN, CCRN and CICU Educator

Medical City Children’s Hospital