Some people shy away from roles that are fast-paced and challenging. But not Kristen Waddell—she thrives in that kind of environment.

Kristen is a nurse practitioner in Children’s of Alabama’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), a role she’s had for nearly six years. It’s a job that’s different every day, but that’s just one of the many reasons she considers nurse practitioner her ideal job. “I love how challenging it is,” she explains. “There are many areas of the job, so you are always learning and doing new things. And you have the nurturing role of taking care of patients while also doing more of the medical and scientific aspects as well.”

Those daily tasks include anything and everything—from assessing patients, ordering labs and medication, and performing physical assessments to doing procedures like intubation and central lines and meeting with families, doctors and others on the hospital’s staff. “I like to say that nurse practitioners fill in the holes,” she says. “We’re performing many different jobs that need to be done to provide the best patient care possible.”

While Kristen thoroughly enjoys her role as a nurse practitioner, it wasn’t always part of her plan. She graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham as a nurse and went to work at Children’s, then decided to go back to school a few years later to get her Master’s degree and go into education. When she began clinicals everything changed. “At that time, I was in the Master’s program for acute care pediatric nurse practitioner, so I had to do clinicals, and that’s when I just fell in love with being a nurse practitioner,” she says. “It’s the best of both worlds to me. It’s still nursing driven and you have direct hands-on care of the patient, but you still get to be a prescriber and think in a different way about the patient care.”

Kristen believes her nursing experience and mindset helps in the many different roles she plays as a nurse practitioner. “I understand the bedside nursing role because of my background, but I also work closely with the prescribing team,” she explains. “Because of that, I consider myself someone who can go between each group and relay information in a really helpful way.”

And while Kristen is pleased to help out in all areas she can, she’s also appreciative that at Children’s she has so many co-workers who are there to help her. “One of the things I like best about working at Children’s is that we are all such an integrated team,” she says. “There are so many different multidisciplinary interactions that you experience throughout the day. PICU attendings, fellows, residents, nurses, other nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists, and many others. I  learn so much even when I’m just listening to another team share information. You won’t get so many specialists and team members working together just anywhere.”