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After 31 years in the PICU, nurse still learns something new every day

Charlotte Smardo recently received the 2016 Nurse Legacy Award

Charlotte Smardo


Charlotte Smardo, RN, is well aware of the irony. She regularly encourages her three teenage children to try new things that take them out of their comfort zone – yet says one of her proudest accomplishments is having worked at the same place, Children’s Mercy’s Pediatric Intensive Care unit, for 31 years.

But that’s not a case of “do as I say, not as I do,” because for Charlotte, a Critical Care Staff Nurse, there’s no such thing as coasting in the comfort zone in the PICU, and there’s always something new to learn right where she is.

Earlier this month Charlotte received the 2016 Nurse Legacy Award, an honor that goes each year to a Children's Mercy nurse who has made significant contributions to the profession and the lives of patients, families and co-workers over 25 or more years of service. The nomination by Tiffany Mullen, RN, Advanced Practice Nurse, cited Charlotte as a role model demonstrating compassion, genuine listening skills, integrity and humor.

”Charlotte provides compassionate care for patients and families with her calming voice, genuine listening skills and impeccable personal skills. She is a role model for health care providers of all experience levels and practice settings,” Mullen said.

When Smardo started at Children's Mercy, the PICU was an eight-bed unit, now grown to 41. Physicians were scheduled during daytime hours only, often leaving night shift nurses alone at bedside; today, intensivists are on duty 24/7.

Through it all, the skill and commitment of the PICU team excels.

“The PICU is very good at its work. We have extremely talented physicians and very intelligent and dedicated nursing staff,” Charlotte said.

There are a few things she misses from times past. The size of the nursing staff then – about 35 in total, compared to that many or more on a single shift today – makes it more difficult to get to know all her coworkers. The growth of opportunities for nurses to move into advanced degrees, research and management can draw colleagues from the bedside, where talent is needed, too. And seldom does she learn about the outcome of a child who’s been in her care.

“When they leave ICU they’re still not well. We hand them over to other areas for care,” she said. “When it’s possible, it’s nice for them to come back so we can see them be well.”

Smardo was also was part of the planning team for the chapel, garden and consulting rooms honoring her friend Lisa Barth, a longtime Children's Mercy nurse who was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died in 2008.

“Lisa’s family wished to do something in her honor, and I was blessed to be part of the planning for that project,” 

Learn more about Children's Mercy's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.