When you see hospital shows on TV, the role of “medical unit receptionist” is pretty much nonexistent. And yet here I am at Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, making sure everyone is taken care of.

I am the air traffic controller in my little corner of the world. I work on a cardiac intermediate care unit called 5F, where many patients stay before or after having a heart procedure done in the “cath lab,” or cardiac catheterization. A never-ending river of doctors, nurses, patients and visitors flows by my desk.

We have 30 beds on this unit, with a big turnover of patients who often just spend the night before or after their procedure and then go home. One of the most important parts of my job is to make sure that there’s an open bed when we need one and that we’re getting patients where they need to be when they need to be there. If things start backing up on 5F, they start backing up everywhere else. So that’s where the “air traffic controller” comes in. There may be three people waiting to run something by me at any one moment, but I’m ready for them. And I love being able to help them all.

You’ll see me glued to a small bank of computers and phones at the nurses’ station. I’m not technically part of the medical team, but I consider it my job to make sure patients feel cared for and listened to. Many are feeling anxious about their procedure and want to know when their doctor is coming. I find out for them. And I make their follow-up appointment with their doctor within the seven-day window they need to hit. I get them food. I get them phone chargers. Not too long ago, I pitched in to help a dad with his 5-day-old baby after the mother needed emergency surgery. There were lots of people to call, and I knew how to get them. Walk by the station while I’m on the phone and you will hear me saying to someone: “Can you do me a huge favor? Immediately?” I am a human Rolodex. (Remember those?) The numbers of cardiologists are burned into my brain.  

When it comes to my work style, I’m a no-drama person. I try to anticipate problems that might arise and find a solution before they even happen. When I am able to fix things, it keeps the issues from rolling down to the patient. This is our mission.

A doctor once told me: “You need to go to nursing school. You would be a great nurse.” But I’d just had my twins, so that wasn’t going to happen. I’m 39 now and they’re 14, change is coming. So, who knows? If I learn something new, it will definitely be in cardiac care. We save lives. And that feels good. So does this floor. We have an International Day celebration here once a year where everyone brings something that represents their culture. That’s so much fun in a hospital because so many team members come from so many different places around the world. India. Jamaica. Ohio. Someone from Charleston brings red beans and rice. Someone from Liberia brings greens, rice and pork.

Cooking is not my thing, so I just bring the drinks. And make sure we’ve got it all together. After all, if I take care of everybody, everything gets taken care of. 

As told to Healthy Headlines

Jennifer L - Air Traffic Control from Novant Health Healthy Headlines on Vimeo .