Julie Guentner: Born a nurse

Meet the ‘mama bear’ of Hemby Children’s Hospital

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Julie Guentner was meant to be a nurse. From the moment she was born at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center (formerly Presbyterian Hospital), she’s been on a mission to care for babies and their families, and her calling goes all the way back to the third grade.

“In third grade, I was asked ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’” Guentner said. “I always said I wanted to be a baby nurse.”

Years later, she got her chance. When she was in college, she worked summers in pediatrics as a certified nursing assistant before joining Presbyterian Medical Center as a pediatric nurse in 1988.

More than three decades later, Guentner is still following her love for pediatric nursing. She’s known as the “mama bear” in the pediatric unit. Her role has changed a lot over the years, but she still loves working with children and she’s learned special ways to continue to bond with parents.

“Working with parents is probably three-fourths of a pediatric nurse’s job,” Guentner said. “You establish relationships and trust which helps you provide the best care possible for their children.”

Good rapport with parents is critical in pediatrics, where families experience the full gamut of emotions: from joy to grief. Guentner has been there for many families where the prognosis of a child was terminal. She considers it a privilege to accompany and support them in those moments. She remembers a time when she helped one young boy live out his dream before he passed way.

“He really wanted to go fishing,” Guentner said. “A volunteer at the hospital at the time said she would take us out on Lake Norman on her boat. We had a lot of fun, and it was a day I’ll never forget.”

Guentner believes she has come a long way as a nurse over the years. She learned a lot from watching her mentor Debbie Pendleton, a former nurse manager on the pediatric intensive care unit, communicate with parents.

“She always stopped and listened to the parents,” Guentner said. “She didn’t try to talk too much, but would do a lot of listening. Her approach resonated a lot with me: to just come, be quiet and listen for a while.”

Pediatrics has changed substantially in Guenter’s tenure. She’s got her start with paper charts and transitioned to computers as time went on. Guentner said she learns something new every day.

“Nothing ever stays the same,” Guentner said. “You need to be willing to change and be pliable.”

The COVID-19 pandemic was certainly one of those changes. Guentner admits she was scared at first, but she believes as time has passed, her fear has subsided as she and her family have become more aware of social distancing and other best practices. She thinks the pandemic has altered her outlook in a positive way.

“It makes you realize how short life really is,” Guentner said. “I appreciate everyday life a little more.”

Some of her appreciation can be found in the care she brings to each patient. She believes Novant Health does a good job of tailoring care to individual needs, and she intends to stay at Presbyterian Medical Center until she retires someday.

“I’ll be there as long as I feel needed and I can help someone,” Guentner said.

And Guentner has seen the other side, too. She has four children, all of whom were also born at Presbyterian Medical Center.

After all this time, she enjoys being able to teach new nurses who join her unit, and she never gets tired of the babies, of course.

“I love holding babies, and I have to get a baby fix every once in a while,” Guentner beamed.

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