Brynn Byers was an active, healthy high school school athlete when she was thrust suddenly into the confusing world of chronic illness.
"I had been losing weight and my hair was breaking off, so I had all the tests, and I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease at 15 years old," Byers says. "It was definitely a shock."
But the diagnosis of incurable inflammatory bowel disease was also the beginning of her desire to go into medicine, and specifically to find a way to help young people navigate the intimidating world of hospitals and medical jargon, Byers says.
"That pushed me to want to go into medicine," she says.
As a pediatric surgical nurse practitioner for University Surgical Associates, Byers ensures young patients at Erlanger hospital feel prepared, informed and cared for as they undergo medical treatment.
"Simplifying language is so important," she says. "I'm not going to say, 'You have an occipital skull fracture.' I'll tell them, 'You have a bump on your head, and we're going to help it get better.'"
Dr. Lisa Smith, a pediatric surgeon and partner at University Surgical Associates, says Byers has a strong gift for reaching young patients.
"Brynn has a connection with some of my older adolescent patients that I could only hope to have," Smith says. "She can communicate with them on a level that I can't."
Her job gives her the opportunity to work with professionals across pediatric medicine, and to learn something new every day, Byers says.
"I love what I do, and I work with four amazing pediatric surgeons," Byers says. "They've given me so much room to grow."
Her patients range from prenatal consultations and the smallest patients in the neonatal intensive care unit to emergency room consultations and trauma cases.
Smith, who was recognized as a Champion of Health Care in 2017 for developing a new chest wall reconstruction program for adolescents, says Byers is a key member of the team.
* Role: Pediatric surgical nurse practitioner for University Surgical Associates at Erlanger hospital.
* Career: Byers has degrees from nursing school at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and from Vanderbilt University’s pediatric acute care nurse practitioner program. Since 2014, she has worked as a surgical nurse practitioner at Erlanger.
* Personal: Brynn and her husband have an 18-month-old son, Sutton.
"It was the team that was winning it for the program, and Brynn's hands are all over it — she is my right hand through all of it," Smith says. "I can't imagine practice without her any more."
Byers is the mother of an 18-month-old son, and is also the daughter of a pediatric nurse who grew her own career while raining a young family.
In fact, Byers's mother, Lori Atchley, still works at Erlanger, and she was a colleague of Smith's when the physician was launching her own career and had a young family.
"Brynn's mother was helpful to me through my training and residency at [the University of Tennessee]," Smith says. "It's something special with pediatric surgery — once you become a parent yourself, you look at those patients differently."
CHAMPIONS OF HEALTH CARE 2021