Kallen Kjellin may have been destined to follow in her mother's footsteps as a nurse at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Fifteen hours before Kallen was born, her mother, Margie Kjellin, was completing a 12-hour overnight shift in the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU)—working with the hospital's most critically ill patients.
"I was caring for a patient and thinking, 'My back hurts, and I’m really tired,'" said Margie, who joined St. Jude in January 1990 as an ICU nurse. "I got off work at 7:30 a.m., and she was born at 10:30 that night."
Kallen and her younger siblings, David and Chloe, grew up listening to stories about St. Jude and their mother's work. Along with their father, Andrew, they occasionally visited the hospital and participated in local hospital fundraisers. When Kallen had to select an occupation to research for a high school project, she chose nursing. It was the first time she had seriously thought about nursing as a career. Margie had seen inklings of it much earlier.
At age 10, Kallen quickly reacted one afternoon when her 6-year-old brother severely cut his hand while playing outdoors. Margie, a former trauma nurse, was temporarily stunned by the sight of her own child's blood. Kallen calmed both her mother and brother, grabbed a washcloth from the kitchen and carefully wrapped David's finger.
"That is when I realized that I wasn't afraid of blood or that I wasn’t easily stressed out," Kallen said.
As Margie's career at St. Jude progressed, she took the advice of mentors and expanded her knowledge by earning certifications, becoming an ICU team educator and stepping into informal positions of leadership. She earned her master's degree in nursing education while Kallen was in nursing school. The mother-daughter team helped each other whenever possible and had a friendly rivalry about grades.
"We read each other's papers, and she was a great help to me," Kallen said. "She taught us to have a strong work ethic and to always do our best. It was fun to be competitive with her, and I think it helped me become a better nurse."
During her senior year, Kallen was accepted into the St. Jude Summer Externship Program. The program offers nursing students a chance to work in patient care settings, collaborate on research projects and learn more about nursing. Kallen was placed on the Solid Tumor unit, where she now works on the night shift.
Margie was both proud and overjoyed when Kallen accepted a full-time nursing position after graduation two years ago.
"It's a lot of fun to have her here," said Margie, who is now the inpatient manager for the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. "Sometimes I will walk up to her floor, and I will seek her out just to give her a hug and a kiss. She doesn't mind me embarrassing her—she loves it."
When Kallen prepares to leave for the day, she often stops by Margie's office for an early-morning rundown of her night. Both are thankful for the opportunity to work together, to share their passion for patient care and to help each other grow professionally.
"I am increasingly thankful to St. Jude because it brings us closer together in a way no other place could," Kallen said.