Sarah Walters, PA-C, recognized for her accountability to her team

Lauren Hooker
February 13, 2024
Sarah Walters, PA-C receiving her award
Sarah Walters, PA-C., accepting her award.

Inspiring Accountability

A paddle and a kayak are rare forms of transportation to get to work; however, in Charleston, we have seen people get creative to get to where they need to be during flooding events. This is a story of accountability and how important this trait is for PAs, APRNs and physicians who make up a team. It all started with Hurricane Idalia, which unleashed strong winds and heavy rain in South Carolina last September. During the storm, Charleston and the surrounding area were inundated with heavy coastal flooding.

But it was the aftermath of the storm that concerned Sarah Walters, lead APP in the Cardiothoracic Surgery division, and her husband, John, since they live on the Edisto River near Summerville. They were watching and preparing for what was undoubtedly going to be a significant flooding event on their 2-and-a-half-acre rural riverside property when the upstate rainwater started to move down the rivers towards the ocean.

 “We were pretty certain once the rain waters started moving down the Edisto, we’d be flooded for a few days,” said Sarah. “Luckily, our house is on stilts, and we’ve had other times when the river rose, but this was going to be unlike any other storm we’d encountered.” The Walters bought their home a year and a half ago, wanting to live on the river and be surrounded by nature. “We knew what we were in for when we bought the house,” she laughs. “One of our friends said, ‘If you want to be on the water, then you have to be prepared to be in the water!’” 

Sarah's house as the river rose.

Early stage of flooding before the car had to be moved.

So, the couple prepared for the eventual flooding. They moved their car about half a mile from their house, where they were sure it would be out of range of the flooding. From there, they set up a plan to use their kayaks to get to the car, using the road as a guide. “Luckily, my husband works from home as an artist, but for me, as the lead APP in a busy cardiothoracic surgery unit, that just isn’t an option,” she explains. “My job has nothing to do with where I chose to live, and we knew it was going to flood intermittently, so we figured we should have a plan in place.”

River flooding property

The river overtakes the Walters’ property.

Once the river flooded their surrounding land, the couple got up extra early, put their waders, boots, and headlamps on, jumped into their kayaks, and navigated the overflowing river to her car. It took about half an hour under a moonlit sky. “When we reached the car, we secured my kayak to a post, and I was on my way to work,” said Walters. The roads were passable – after all, this was about five days after the Idalia hit Charleston, and the coastal flooding had receded. At the end of her workday, she called John, and he met her at her car. For the next week, kayaking to her car became the first leg of her trip to work.

Sarah and John during flood

Sarah and her husband, John, navigating through the flood waters to reach her car when her property flooded in the aftermath of hurricane Idalia.

That type of “can do” attitude garnered Walters with the MUSC Health APP Best Practice Center Accountability Award. Throughout the year, each quarter, MUSC Health has a system APP award. They are: Professionalism, Accountability, Advocacy/Compassion and Innovation. All APPs are eligible and out of eight hundred forty-one employed APPs across MUSC Health, Walters was nominated and chosen for the second quarter Accountability Award.

Accountability starts at the top and requires ownership. According to Marc R. Katz, M.D., MPH, cardiothoracic surgery division chief, Sarah is the consummate patient care provider and a selfless leader. “She always puts her patients and other care providers before herself,” he said. “That could not have been more evident than when she used a kayak to get from her home to transportation to be sure she arrived on time for her day. We are fortunate to have her as part of our team and our community.”

 The cardiothoracic surgery team has grown significantly over the past few years. “The CT Surgery division has truly functioned at a very high level with excellent volumes,” said Chair Prabhakar Baliga, M.D. “The team is a strong champion for their patients and ensures high-quality outcomes under difficult circumstances, and I am delighted to see Sarah receive this well-deserved recognition.”   

When Walters joined the CT surgery division seven years ago, there were five APPs; now, there are 15. About a year and a half ago, Walters assumed the role of lead APP. “As the number of APPs have expanded in CT Surgery, we created the lead APP role to help, and we were very fortunate to have Sarah Walters, PA-C, take the lead role,” said Jamie Meyer, vice chair of Finance and Administration in the department. “She has hit the ground running and is already making a difference in retention, quality and clinical care.”   

Walters says her expanded role now includes making the schedules, holding monthly meetings, organizing training, and helping with all the APP credentialing and interviews. Nominated by her colleague, LeAnne Hewitt, PA-C, who acknowledges the tough job Sarah has as lead APP and how her actions like this are often what inspires team members. “As the team leader, she provides the best example to our team of hard work, which helps us all strive to be better,” Hewitt says, “She goes above and beyond in all efforts for her patients’ direct care as well as behind the scenes to support other team members. We are all lucky to have an APP like Sarah on our team.”