When Dr. Sheila McMorrow joined the TriStar Centennial family a couple of years ago as one of a select number of doctors recruited to launch the pediatric emergency department at The Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial, she immediately identified her first priority. The pediatric ER was in the same building as the main ER, and though there was a separate entrance for children, as well as a distinct pediatric patient waiting room, there were still rare situations where there would be overlap between the adult and pediatric areas.
“With the number of patients that TriStar Centennial treats in the ER every day, I think having a separate pediatric ER is important to ensuring the best possible experience for our young patients and their families,” explains Sheila, who did her residency at Vanderbilt and spent nine years on faculty there before transitioning to TriStar Centennial.
So after only a month on the job, she met with the hospital administration about leading the design of a separate pediatric ER. They were extremely receptive and launched construction of the new child-friendly, full-service, state-of-the art pediatric emergency room, which celebrated its grand opening in July. Today, Sheila, who is mom to three children, ages 6, 3 and 7 months, serves as the Pediatric ER Medical Director at The Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial. We sat down with her during one of her 12-hour shifts at the new facility, which, in this ever-growing community, will help ensure that kids and their parents have greater access to high quality, around-the-clock pediatric emergency care. We are pleased to introduce this month’s FACE of TriStar, Dr. Sheila McMorrow, whose lovely demeanor and quiet confidence are sure to put parents and children at ease when faced with what’s often a dreaded ER visit.
What made you decide to become a doctor?
My mom was a medical technologist before she had kids and didn’t work after she had us, but she was always very interested in science. When I was in high school at Marist [in Atlanta, Georgia], I volunteered as a candy striper at St. Joseph’s Hospital, and for career week junior or senior year, I spent time with a pediatrician at Scottish Rite Hospital. When I went to college, I still wasn’t totally convinced that I wanted to do medicine, so I majored in biomedical engineering because I felt like I didn’t want to pigeon hole myself into biology and then not go into medicine. My dad has an engineering background, so he was very encouraging of that. I got an engineering degree and then decided to pursue medical school. I went to the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.
How did you end up in Nashville?
I looked all over for residencies, and Vanderbilt was my second to last interview. I remember it had just snowed here, and the Titans were in the Super Bowl. I think I had these thoughts that Nashville was a honkytonk town with Broadway and all those big lights, but I realized there was a lot more here. I was looking between here and Birmingham, and I thought Nashville would be a great city, so I decided to come here. I stayed for fellowship because the director who was hired was just fantastic. A pediatric ER fellowship is another three years after residency, and I kept thinking I would go back to Atlanta or move to Chicago. There was something about Chicago that I always loved, except I would visit in November and think, I can’t do this weather! So, in my last year of fellowship, I was starting to interview for jobs, and I was taking an adult Spanish class downtown because there were so many people in the ER who were Spanish speakers, and that’s where I met my husband. He’s a contractor and does real estate investment, so he was taking Spanish for his career too. It was a little awkward because I was making decisions about jobs, and I didn’t know whether to factor him in, but I decided to stay for one year and just see where it went, and here we are 11 years later.
How did you transition from Vanderbilt to Centennial?
Vanderbilt was an awesome place to work, and I learned a ton and am very thankful for my training and time there. When we found out that we were having our second child, I was reevaluating my career and family life. I was having trouble balancing the academic duties and the clinical responsibilities. There were a lot of things that would come up with academics, like conferences and meetings. At the same time, TriStar Centennial was growing, and they were focusing on starting a pediatric ER. So, time-wise it worked out well. I started here in July 2015. Since then, we added a third little one to the family!
We’ll get into balancing your schedule with being a mom, but how have you liked working here?
It’s been great because we have a great team. There are 12 board-certified, fellowship-trained pediatric ER doctors now, and we all come from different medical centers from around the country. In this kind of situation where you’re starting a program, you can really influence how things take off and what the culture is. Even though we’re not an academic center, we all come from academic centers, and so we are all focused on quality of care and standards of care.
What kind of culture are you trying to establish?
I think you have to love where you work and the people you work with. That’s why I think the team that we’ve assembled is going to succeed because we all respect and really like each other. We have people who are committed to this place and happy to be at work. They work hard, and we all have the same goal in taking care of patients. There is so much crazy stuff that happens in the ER, so I’m a firm believer that the people you work with have to be your support system, too. And I think maintaining that is a huge thing because it translates into patient care. If you are happy, you’re going to take better care of patients, so the kids get the good care that they need and parents are going to appreciate that.
How do you balance your schedule with being a mom?
It works well because my husband is self-employed, and so his schedule can be a little bit flexible. The ER is shift work, which is nice because when you’re here, you’re here, and when you’re off, you’re off. We work 12-hour shifts, so they are 6 a.m. to 6 p.m, and 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. I don’t love the night shifts, but luckily I have a wonderful nanny, and I can sleep when I get home!
Did becoming a mom change how you look at your patients?
Totally. I cry way more. When newborns come in with a fever, we have to do a septic workup, which involves a spinal tap. I can empathize with the parent as I know how I would feel if my child was going through that test. It can get emotional sometimes! Also when patients come in with extremely rare, freak accidents, I think, This could happen to my child! I also think I understand more and can relate to what parents are going through because I, too, am a mom, and my babies are my most precious gifts.
What’s the one thing you want all parents to remember about an ER visit?
We know that coming to the ER with your child is a stressful, scary thing, and it is never a place that a parent wants to have to go. As ER docs, we are people who you don’t have long-term relationships with, like one does with their child’s pediatrician. So we try our hardest to bridge that gap for a very brief time. I hope that every parent who leaves the pediatric ER at The Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial goes away feeling that we truly listened to them and gave the best care that we could to their child.
To learn more about the pediatric emergency department at The Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial, visit thechildrenshospitalnashville.