After 40 years, pediatric nurse Stephanie Dieter knows her job. At the practice of Drs. Gouel and Blotny, P.A., on the campus of University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, the Anneslie resident greets patients, escorts them to an examining room, records their height, weight and temperature, and finds out what's going on in order to prep the doctor.
But too, she knows kids — especially when it comes to giving the oft-time dreaded shots and vaccinations.
"When she gives you a needle, she never messes up, like some doctors," said Eva Mai Christian, 16, of Overlea, on a recent Wednesday. Her mother, Jamea, has been bringing her to this doctors' office since she was born. "She's very nice and never makes me feel awkward."
"The shot is what all young kids worry about," said Laura Hunt, who was in the waiting room on that same day with her daughter, Stella, 5. The family moved from Parkville to Stewartstown, Pa., but Hunt still brings Stella to the Towson practice as she has done since her daughter was born.
"It can be very stressful, a cold experience. But Stephanie is warm. She takes the pressure off," Hunt said.
Despite the endorsement that Dieter makes patients and families feel welcomed and comfortable, Dieter said, "Some children are very shy, some are outgoing, some don't like me and cling to their mothers because they know what I'm going to do, and some scream bloody murder.
"You do the best you can with the younger ones. You can't reason with a 2-year-old if they are upset or out of sorts. You just get on with it and get it over with.
"You really have to like children to do this job. They are all unique and very special to me," Dieter said.
In recognition of Dieter's years at the pediatric practice, her coworkers threw her a surprise party at BlueStone Restaurant on July 18 to celebrate her tenure of three days a week for 40 years.
"It's a great joy to have Stephanie with us," Dr. Elias Gouel said. "She has a gift for working with children and families, and making them comfortable, and for making the doctor's job easier."
"Her greatest gift is a very big open heart to the patients," Dr. Krystyna Blotny said. "The parents adore her."
Though Dieter orders medications and maintains inventory for the entire practice and is known for pitching in wherever and whenever needed, she works closely with Blotny and for Dr. Lois Sullivan, who joined the group seven years ago.
Owned by LifeBridge Community Physicians since last July, the practice is run by Gouel and Blotny, who partnered up in 1999 when founder and well-known Towson pediatrician Dr. Ronald Walcher retired.
Gouel has known Dieter for 35 years, first as a parent when their kids attended St. Pius X School in Towson and later when he shared office space and resources with Walcher, who hired Dieter.
Sullivan first met Dieter 16 years ago when she showed up at the practice fresh off the plane from St. Louis with a son with scarlet fever and knowing nobody in Baltimore except her husband, who had just taken a job at Hopkins.
"Stephanie always was so caring and asking how I was doing. She got me through a hard time adjusting," Sullivan said. "I knew I wanted to come to work here. I knew she would be my nurse. Her grandchildren now come to see me."
'Leap of faith'
Dieter grew up in Ednor Gardens, the eldest of five children. She had no compulsion to become a nurse, She wasn't sure what she wanted to do after she graduated from the Institute of Notre Dame in Baltimore. She worked as a clerk for C&P Telephone Co. for a year and then enrolled in Sinai Hospital's nursing school, where she had a good time, she said.
When she graduated in 1969, she married Jim, whom she had met on a blind date arranged by her best friend when she was 16. She spent a year at Mercy Hospital, but felt they were prejudiced in favor of Mercy nursing graduates. She then worked at was is now University of Maryland St.Joseph Medical Center until she had her first child.
Later, that same best friend, who later had been a patient of Walcher, told her he was looking for a nurse.
"I tell you it was a leap of faith when he hired me," Dieter said.
Among the guests Dieter greeted with a hug at the surprise party was Walcher, who hired Dieter to work just Saturdays, the only day Dieter's husband, Jim was available to babysit their three young children, now 42, 41 and 33.
She has seen changes since 1974, she said. Insurance is now so important and so complicated. There are so many more medications.
"And fathers are so much more involved today," she said.
Also, parents are more knowledgeable, Dieter said. "They check things out on the Internet and then they call."
And then there are computers, for her: "The worst part of the job. The rest I can handle. At my age, paper is the way to go," she said.
'Ready with a hug'
Dieter is embarrassed about all the attention recently given her. She deflects the limelight and credits the personal touch of the doctors for the thriving pediatric practice.
"They see you, talk to you, touch you. We get to know patients and make connections. We're really very good at longevity, we stay on an even keel," Dieter said.
But the doctors and staff agree that Dieter's presence is needed and valued.
"If the doctor is not immediately available, they can talk to Stephanie, who can field technical questions and point them in the right direction," said Hannah O'Brien, administrator of the practice. "She's very discreet. If there is a problem, she doesn't talk about it, and if she does, only in the appropriate place and time, she would point it out to the doctor."
"She's always sweet and ready with a hug. She's a mother and a grandmother — she has that touch with children," O'Brien said.
Sullivan recalled seeing a little girl come skipping down the hall right up to Dieter and announcing, "Oh, Nurse Stephanie, I've missed you so much!"
Dieter said one of the joys of her job is the babies and the moms and watching the babies grow. When Jamea Christian first brought Eva Mai to the practice, Dieter exclaimed, "Oh gosh, my baby has a baby!"
Lakwanza Duckson, of Woodlawn, can remember laughing with Dieter over the fact that her son, Austin, whom Dieter once looked down upon as she held him in her arms, is now so tall that Dieter has to look up at him.
Children grow very quickly, Dieter said: "I tell the moms to enjoy the baby. It may be hard but they don't stay babies very long. It's not long before they start talking back to you."
Dieter said she has no plans to retire.
"It's what I do," she said. It's a good fit, three days a week, close to home. It's fun most days and some days are more fun than others. It's familiar. I don't like change."
Dieter's advice as nurse, mother and grandmother?
"Love your children. Let them know they are well loved. Don't sweat the small stuff. Enjoy them."