A career of caring

Debbie Williams ‘semi-retires’ after four decades in nursing

Debbie and Allen Williams on a cruise given to her by Preston Ridge Pediatrics and Dr. Michael Papciak on her 30th work anniversary.
Debbie Williams with husband, Allen, and children, Rachel and John.
Debbie Williams and Dr. Michael Papciak.

At the end of her 40-year career as a nurse, Debbie Williams still finds herself at the beginning – working for the doctor who gave her the first, and only, nursing job she ever held.

After four decades of working for Dr. Michael Papciak of Preston Ridge Pediatrics in Alpharetta, Williams has a simple answer for why the grass was never greener in another practice.

“I stayed with Dr. Papciak because he is a great physician and a wonderful boss,” said Williams, who lives in Woodstock with her husband, Allen, and children John and Rachel. “His patients, the parents, and staff all appreciate and admire him...I couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend my career.”

The admiration is mutual. Years ago when Dr. Papciak was in the early years of his practice, he remembered the young Georgia Southern University nursing student who had impressed him with her skills and demeanor.

“I needed my own nurse after one year of practice,” said Dr. Papciak, past chief of pediatrics at Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital. “I knew Debbie from her student rotation in our office while she was at GSU.  I contacted her before she graduated to ask if she wanted to work for me...and the rest is history!”

Reflecting on 40 years of nursing has given Williams a unique view of the changes in medical care over the decades. She has seen childhood diseases eradicated (smallpox), controlled (measles, mumps and chicken pox), and the emergence of new health issues that are a part of every new parent’s concerns (autism, aggressive flu and even Zika).

Williams said children today seem to grow up quicker, with more direction and activities than kids from years ago.

“Children are exposed to more at younger ages, and they are very ‘busy’ with structured play, school and community sports [and all the other activities],” said Williams, who has lived in the Atlanta area since she was a young child. “But what is the same, and has never changed, is the parental love for their children...that remains constant over the years.”

Improvements in medical care have significantly changed the way doctors and patients interact, she noted, giving both entities more control over the child’s health.

“We do more in the office now than when I began, which decreases the need for specialty care or emergency department visits,” Williams explained. “The speed with which we can diagnose common illnesses with rapid tests such as flu, strep, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), enables us to treat more quickly when appropriate. Parents love the quick results.”

She always knew nursing was a career she wanted, since it combined her two loves: children and the medical field. It is still a career she urges young people to follow.

“I feel that working in the medical field is a ‘calling,’ not a job,” said Williams. “And anyone who feels that call should pursue it. We need them!”

Although she is not working full time, Williams said she has no plans to step completely out of nursing, coming in a few days a week to continue the job she began 40 years ago. Her longevity with Dr. Papciak makes her among many long-term employees among the office staff.

“We do have a number of staff who have been with Dr. Papciak for many years, myself included,” said Kelly McGraw, the office manager for Preston Ridge Pediatrics. She points to the current clinical supervisor, Terri Webb, who has been there 17 years, and who replaced Denise Jones who had been with the practice for 30 years.

“I think that speaks to his management style and the culture that creates in the office,” said McGraw.

But Williams is looking forward, at some point, to full retirement and traveling across the country with her husband. Just not quite yet, she laughed.

Looking back over the past 40 years with Williams as a presence in his practice, Dr. Papciak said she never lost her sense of commitment to the patients and her love of nursing.

“Debbie is always kind and polite to parents and kids and thoughtful of her co-workers,” he noted. “I never imagined she would work with me for so long.  She works with me, not for me.  As the years passed, we never counted them as a goal.  It just happened so quickly.” ■


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