A Nurse's Passion: MUSC College of Nursing
Guest: Tiffany Williams – College of Nursing
Host: Dr. Linda Austin – Psychiatry
Dr. Linda Austin: This is Dr. Linda Austin. I’m talking with Tiffany Williams who is instructor in the College of Nursing here at MUSC. Tiffany, I know you’ve had a very long history of being very interested in the care of children. You have, as I understand, a nurse practitioner’s degree, an MSN, with a specialty in pediatrics. Tell me about how you came to be interested in working with children.
Tiffany Williams: It’s all I can remember. I remember my first interest in nursing, in pediatrics in particular, was at a very young age. I attended primary school on James Island. It was on a fieldtrip to Gaillard Auditorium, downtown, and I remember riding on the bus, going on that trip, and passing what was then the Charles Webb Center, which was a school for handicapped children. I remember seeing the children playing outside, and it was really the first time that I had been exposed to, or had seen, children with handicaps. I remember going home and talking to my Mom about it. And from that point, I realized nursing was probably one of those areas that I could go in and be helpful to those children. So, from a very young age, I wanted to help children, especially children with chronic illnesses.
Dr. Linda Austin: Do you remember specifically what your mother said when you asked her?
Tiffany Williams: I remember asking her, how can I help? And I remember her talking about being a physical therapist. I remember her talking about being a nurse. She just gave me some of the different ways, the different career paths that I could go into to be helpful.
Dr. Linda Austin: So, you went to Bishop England High School?
Tiffany Williams: I did.
Dr. Linda Austin: And, what was your career path then?
Tiffany Williams: Well, you know, back then, we didn’t really have career paths, in high school in particular. It was just our college prep classes, but I knew at that point that I wanted to be a nurse. So, by the time I was in high school, I already knew that.
Dr. Linda Austin: And you came to MUSC?
Tiffany Williams: I did, yes. I graduated from MUSC, in undergraduate, BSN, in 1990.
Dr. Linda Austin: What was that like?
Tiffany Williams: It was difficult. It was very challenging, but rewarding.
Dr. Linda Austin: And, what happened then?
Tiffany Williams: After I graduated undergrad, I worked in the NICU here, at MUSC, as well as Pediatric Psychiatry, before moving away to Orangeburg. And, while I was there, I worked for the Department of Health and Environmental Control in the BabyNet and Children’s Rehabilitative Services Program, so, once again, working with children with chronic illnesses.
Dr. Linda Austin: And then, along the way, you married and had your own family.
Tiffany Williams: Actually, I married the semester before I graduated undergraduate school and had my first child in 1991. My son was born with a chronic illness. He was born with lissencephaly, which is a very rare brain disorder that causes the brain surface to be smooth. So, he was born with challenges. We were given a very poor prognosis. We were told that he was not going to live through infancy, but he did, and did very well for a long time. He had a pretty bad seizure disorder and ultimately lost his battle to it.
Dr. Linda Austin: So, that was quite a challenge.
Tiffany Williams: It was.
Dr. Linda Austin: You speak about it with great grace, but I can imagine that it was quite a challenge.
Tiffany Williams: It was. But my husband and I were very fortunate in that I was already in the medical field, so I was aware of a lot of the resources that were available to families, and that made it a lot easier. Plus, we were surrounded by family and friends who were as supportive as we could expect anyone to be. So, our challenges, although they were difficult, were a lot less than, I know, many parents with special needs children experience.
Dr. Linda Austin: And then you had two children, who are well and healthy now, correct?
Tiffany Williams: Yes, they are, yes, a 16-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son.
Dr. Linda Austin: Now, I’m sure that, as a professional, you’ve learned a tremendous amount about caring for children and families with chronic illnesses but, boy, there’s nothing like walking that path yourself. What did you learn that informs and illuminates the way you practice as a nurse practitioner, and as an academician?
Tiffany Williams: I am a better person, and a better nurse, having had the experience of parenting a child for 13 years with special needs. I practiced as a nurse practitioner during his illness, and I also experienced MUSC from the other side, as a patient. And so, I bring experience, from both sides, that I think is just extremely valuable, and I have no doubt that I am a better practitioner because of it.
Dr. Linda Austin: You understand what a scary place this can be for people who may not understand our procedures, even our language, words that seem pretty simple, to you.
Tiffany Williams: Exactly, the challenges. Even as a nurse practitioner, the challenges that I faced as a mother were very difficult. I had to learn how to separate being a practitioner from being a parent, and that it was okay to be a parent, and not be practitioner, when it came to my own child. But, yeah, those experiences have, I guess, made it possible for me to support other families in ways that I don’t think I would have been able to had I not experienced it personally.
Dr. Linda Austin: You are the coordinator of the pediatric curriculum for the BSN nurses.
Tiffany Williams: Yes.
Dr. Linda Austin: Tell us about that curriculum.
Tiffany Williams: Well, it’s a new role for me. I have been on faculty for a little less than a year, and this summer will be the first group of students that I have in that role. So, I am diligently preparing for that curriculum right now.
Dr. Linda Austin: Very exciting.
Tiffany Williams: It is.
Dr. Linda Austin: How intensive, and extensive, is the pediatric experience for our student nurses?
Tiffany Williams: The summer session is twelve weeks. The clinical experience is going to be broken between hospital experience and community experience. And, that’s a little different for pediatrics, but the face of pediatrics is changing in healthcare. Sick kids are no longer only in the hospital. They’re out in the community. Kids are staying in the hospital for much shorter periods of time; they’re being sent home. Situations that are much more intensive than they have been in the past, kids are home with tracheotomies. They are receiving very intensive home healthcare, at home, in conditions that they normally would have been hospitalized for. So, this pediatric experience is going to allow students to see what it’s like to take care of children with healthcare needs in the community as well.
Dr. Linda Austin: Very exciting.
Tiffany Williams: Yes, it is.
Dr. Linda Austin: Do you see yourself eventually getting involved in the nurse practitioner educational program?
Tiffany Williams: I would love to, but I think that would be on a need basis. I’m not sure how that will play out in the future.
Dr. Linda Austin: You had gone back and gotten your MSN in 2001, and you then worked on the HIV unit with a pediatric population.
Tiffany Williams: Yes. It was actually an outpatient clinic.
Dr. Linda Austin: Tell us what that experience was like.
Tiffany Williams: Wow! It was challenging as well. Children living with HIV are very much like children living with diabetes and epilepsy, and other chronic illnesses. We saw our patients every three months, on average, so I got to develop very intensive relationships with the families, as well as the children, and follow them through, and watch them grow. HIV is no longer a death sentence. It’s just, really, managing a chronic illness. It was very rewarding and challenging.
Dr. Linda Austin: It occurs to me that there are probably going to be many students, or potential students, listening to this podcast, and one of the things to underline about pediatrics is that, yes, you’re caring for the children, but you’re really caring for the whole family.
Tiffany Williams: Oh, definitely, yeah. When you take care of kids, you have to take of the family. Otherwise, you’re really missing the mark. It is about the entire family.
Dr. Linda Austin: You have a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it.
Tiffany Williams: Thank you.