By Guest Blogger Dr. Penny Blake, Chief Nursing Officer, Brenner Children’s Hospital

The history of my career is tied to the history of Brenner Children’s Hospital. I am now the chief nursing officer (CNO) of our world-class pediatric hospital, but when I began my career as a NICU (neonatal intensive care) nurse in 1982, Brenner was not yet Brenner. A few years later in 1986, Brenner Children’s Hospital was founded. I feel privileged that all but five years of my career have been spent growing alongside this amazing hospital.

How it all Started—and Where it’s Going 

As new graduates of the UNC School of Nursing, my college roommate, Nancy Sullivan, and I moved to Winston-Salem to work in the NICU at Baptist Hospital. Our career paths took different directions, but 36 years later, we are both still here —in fact, she continues to provide nursing care in the NICU.

Penny Blake (right) with college roommate, Nancy Sullivan (middle), in the 1980s

As my career moved toward nursing administration, I transitioned from staff nurse to nurse manager, to associate director, then director, and finally to my current position of CNO. This last advancement was not just an accomplishment for me, but for Brenner as well. I have the privilege of being Brenner’s first CNO. The creation of this position demonstrates that our hospital has elevated the practice of nursing. The role is an exceptional honor for myself and all of our talented nurses.

My goal throughout my career has been not only to make a difference in the care of children, but to continue learning and focus on coaching and mentoring the next generation of nurse leaders. Nurses are vitally important to the future of our organization and the care of children in our region.

Favorite Memories

During 36 years, I have had many experiences—but there are some memories that will always stay with me. After moving away for five years, I returned to Brenner in time to begin planning a new Brenner tower that opened in 2002. This was such an exciting project in our history, and helping plan the tower and manage the move was one of the highlights of my career.

Another special memory for me is caring for a baby for 14 months in the NICU shortly after I started my career. I continue to receive cards from her mother annually. That patient will always be special to me, but all Brenner patients are special. Every day I am inspired by them—from the smallest premature babies to adolescents.

Penny Blake with David Simon, Sherry Burleson and Amanda Clark

One of the blessings of being a part of the same hospital for many years is that it allows lifelong bonds with people—patients, families and colleagues. I often receive visits from patients long after they have left our care. I have occasionally seen second-generation patients—patients who are children of my former patients.

Several of my colleagues are also inaugural Brenner nurses from the 80s. Dr. Alisa Starbuck and I were staff nurses together. She is now VP of Women’s and Children’s Services and Executive Director of Brenner.

What Has Changed ?

There have been a multitude of changes during my career.  Technological innovations have made a great difference in how we work. When I began my career, documentation was on paper—now electronic medical records are available. Equipment has changed immensely, too. Specialized pediatric equipment that allows us to deliver precise treatments and therapies is readily available.  Medical and surgical advancements based on increased knowledge have also been dramatic. These changes have resulted in improved patient outcomes.

We have also developed robust quality and safety processes. Additionally, there is an enhanced focus on wellness. All of these advancements improve the wellbeing of children.

What Has Not Changed?

As much as things have changed, the heart of Brenner has remained the same —and that is the caregivers’ passion for the care of children. This is the primary reason I love working at Brenner.

Our nurses and the care team exhibit this passion leading to exceptional care for patients and families as well as incredible teamwork among our staff. Our work is grounded in our core values and we give it our all every day.

Chief Nursing Officer, Brenner Children’s Hospital

Why Brenner Is Special

I have the best job in the world. I get to live my dream daily by leading a nursing staff that provides care to children and families when they need it most. I cannot think of a more vulnerable time for a family than when their child is in hospital, but that is when our staff really comes through.

We have much to offer in our 146-bed state-of-the-art children’s hospital. As CNO, I have responsibility for nursing care provided in neonatal and pediatric critical care, acute care pediatrics and adolescent, oncology, pediatric emergency department (ED), behavioral health, multispeciality clinics throughout our region, and various programs supporting the care of children.

Brenner Children’s Hospital serves a large geographic area including 19 counties in western North Carolina and southern Virginia. Our children’s hospital is home to over 140 board-certified physicians, including world-renowned specialists, who specialize in 30 areas of pediatric medicine. Additionally, we have the first Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center in the state and a Level 1 Pediatric Burn Center. Brenner nurses complete extensive pediatric training and hold national certifications in their specialties.

Caring for children is a privilege. With all that Brenner has to offer, care is provided by a professional, friendly team in a patient- and family-centered environment. We make time for fun and celebrations with our patients. Brenner Children’s Hospital is a special place. Even when children need our care, they are still full of life. Every day, they show us how we should live .

Learn more about the history of Brenner Children’s Hospital by visiting

*Image at top of post: Penny in the NICU in 1983.

Want to see more blogs like this and get notifications on local events and happenings? Subscribe to our free weekly newsletters here

*Sponsored by Brenner Children’s Hospital