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Charlotte Wallace, RN, pediatric nurse and sustainability coordinator at Anne Arundel Medical Center (AAMC) in Annapolis, Md.

April 2013

Q. When did you decide to pursue a career in nursing and why?

A. I always wanted to be an elementary school teacher, but during my senior year in high school, I decided that nursing would provide me with a more flexible schedule and vast career path. I was intrigued by the idea of helping a child feel comfortable in the hospital setting, while educating and treating them with respect.

Q. What do you enjoy most about nursing?

A. Knowing that I have made a positive impact on someone else's life is what I enjoy most about nursing. Whether I help ease their pain, pick up on subtle assessment changes or reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals, I can look myself in the mirror and know that my hard work has truly made a difference in someone else's life.

Q. How did you become involved in your hospital's sustainability efforts?

A. Throughout the years as a pediatric nurse, I saw too many children suffer from diseases that I felt could have been prevented. I also watched a fellow nurse go into a severe asthma attack due to exposure to the carpet cleaner. I wondered how this chemical, and other cleaning chemicals, were affecting my patients already in respiratory distress.

Concerned, I decided to write a letter to our former CEO. I wrote that I was tired of the paradox of being an institution for healing, when we had practices that seemed to harm human health. I told him that our staff and patients deserved better and challenged him to be a leader in sustainability.

Q. Why do you think it's so important for hospitals to adopt sustainable practices?

A. I believe hospitals should be the leaders in sustainability practices – after all, we took an oath to "do no harm.” It’s important that we consider the impact of our operational decisions on the health of our community, staff and patients.

For example, in March 2011, Anne Arundel Medical Center successfully implemented a reusable sharps container program in our operating rooms to reduce the volume of plastics sent annually to the incinerator. Additionally, thanks to our waste segregation efforts, we now only send 16 percent of our waste to the incinerator – 30 percent as recycling and 54 percent as municipal waste.

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