Mighty Blog

One nurse’s full-circle career at Children’s Minnesota

As kid experts at Children’s Minnesota, our care can have a lasting impact on patients and families. Routine clinic visits build long-term relationships that evolve as kids grow into young adults. And, hospital stays can be formative experiences in our young patients’ lives.

That was the case for our very own employee, Karen Martin, director of neonatal care services, who had a one-week stay at Children’s Minnesota when she was just 13 years old.

The care she received was a piece of her inspiration to become a nurse — and to come back and work at Children’s Minnesota.

Karen’s full-circle story

Karen Martin, director of neonatal care services
Karen Martin, director of neonatal care services

Karen’s Children’s Minnesota story began when she was in a car accident at 11 years old, leaving her with a persistent knee issue. Two years later, her care team decided the best course of action was to operate, landing her in the Children’s Minnesota medical/surgical unit. Little did teenager Karen know then, this experience would change the course of her life forever!

Karen had a deep appreciation for her care team, one that would last decades and planted the seed for her to eventually become a pediatric nurse. Since she was too young to hone her nursing skills just yet, she started taking care of kids as a babysitter.

Her first gig was taking care of two children who lived across the street when she was just 11. “I still can’t believe they trusted me with their 2-year-old and their baby,” Karen remarked. “From then on, I was the neighborhood babysitter for about eight families. I babysat nearly every weekend, and most of the summers, until I was 15. I made a whopping 60 cents an hour. I spent my money on Nancy Drew books and saved up to buy a 10-speed bike at 13.”

Becoming a nurse

When it came time to go to college and pick a major, Karen had an easy decision to make: nursing! The first in her family to pursue a career in health care, she credits Children’s Minnesota staff as being her first and forever inspiration.

In nursing school, her pediatric rotation was at Children’s Minnesota, giving her a glimpse of what it’s like to be a kid expert. When she graduated from St. Olaf College in 1986, she scoured newspapers and kept her eyes and ears open for a role back at Children’s Minnesota.

Joining the Children’s Minnesota team

Karen was in luck! “I was hired as a staff RN in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in December of 1986, the only unit that had an opening at that time,” Karen said. “One of my favorite memories is working night shift as a new nurse. Nights were rough, but the people were amazing, and we had so much fun! The laughs and the pranks (you all know who you are) got us through.”

Karen remained a bedside nurse in the NICU until 2010 when she became the patient care manager of the St. Paul NICU. Shortly after taking on this role, she received a master’s in nursing from Augsburg College. In 2022, she was named the director of neonatal services at Children’s Minnesota.

Karen during her time as a bedside nurse
Karen during her time as a bedside nurse

When asked what has kept her in nursing all these years, Karen couldn’t keep it to one thing. “The teamwork was, and is, incredible. When you know and trust the people around you in a critical situation, you work together seamlessly. And of course I have a passion for the kids, especially the babies!”

Karen’s mantra is, “Our every day is their once in a lifetime.” Throughout her nearly 40-year career, this has helped her never forget the difference nurses make for their patients and families.

Congratulations, Karen, on your full-circle career, your dedicated years of service and all the greatness that is yet to come! Children’s Minnesota is so lucky to have you as a kid expert.

Celebrating a century of care: Children’s Minnesota turns 100 

Children’s Minnesota has been here for 100 years. And it’s all because of you: the people who bring your kids here, the ones who work here, the partners who refer their young patients for specialty treatment, the donors who support us, and the community who rallies around the families in our hospitals. Join us in celebrating a century of care — and a bright, healthy future for Minnesota kids.