Portrait of LaDonna Northington
Dr. LaDonna Northington, who began her nursing career in the Children's Hospital Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in 1979, has been elected Society of Pediatric Nurses president.
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Northington brings nursing experience to national leadership role

Published on Thursday, November 14, 2019

By: Kate Royals

Dr. LaDonna Northington got her first experience in pediatric nursing as a student nursing assistant at the University of Mississippi Medical Center more than 40 years ago. From her first day in the pediatric intensive care unit, she knew she loved working with children. 

Fast forward 42 years and Northington is set to assume the top role of the national organization for pediatric nurses. 

Northington, who says she “grew up at the Medical Center” and has been at UMMC in some capacity since 1977, is currently serving as president-elect of the Society of Pediatric Nurses (SPN). In April of next year, she will begin her two-year term as president.

Northington’s career includes eight years as a bedside nurse in the PICU and another eight years as a Clinical Nurse Specialist. She then transitioned to the School of Nursing as an assistant professor until 2001, where she has worked in various roles since.

Ever humble and generous, Northington, interim dean for academic affairs and assistant dean for undergraduate programs in the University of Mississippi School of Nursing, is not so much focused on the prestige of the position as she is on the people impacted by it.

“I try not to think about it because, if I think about it, it sometimes gets to be overwhelming. It’s a big responsibility in a national organization,” she said.

SPN has grown to around 3,800 members from across the country since its beginnings in 1990. The organization’s goal is to support nurses in their practice by providing educational resources, news in pediatric trends and opportunities to network with nurses around the country.

“I say to myself at least twice a week, ‘You’ve got to make sure you don’t let the people down,’” said Northington.

So far, she has not.

As president, she will be responsible for implementing the Board’s strategic initiatives and developing new ones. She also oversees the 8-person board, works with the organization’s management company to ensure the organization is meeting the needs of the members, maintains financial stability, and establishes liaisons with other organizations. Other duties include working closely with the committees that monitor policies at the national levels, creating webinars and continuing education activities for members, establishing and maintaining chapters across the US, developing clinical practice guidelines to assist pediatric nurses in their daily jobs, and assisting with group’s annual convention.

“LaDonna exemplifies the leadership, passion and strategic thinking that is needed for the role. Her vast network of pediatric colleagues and reputation for collaboration will benefit not only SPN as an organization, but also all of our members,” said current SPN president Michele Habich.

Northington graduated from UMMC in 1979 and went on to receive her Master of Science in Nursing in 1987, also from UMMC. In 1998, she received her Doctor of Nursing Science from Louisiana State University.

She has been a member of SPN since 1991 and has always been involved in the organization, beginning with her work on the clinical practice committee when she was a bedside nurse. She has been a committee co- chair, chair, committee liaison, editor of the SPN newsletter and a director on the Board of Directors.

In 2012, the Board of Directors of the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition approved a work group focusing on best practices for nasogastric feeding tube placement verification in infants and children.  The group became known as the New Opportunities for Verification of Enteral tube Location, or the NOVEL project.  The mission of the NOVEL project is to define and disseminate best practices for methods to verify NG tube placement in neonates, hospitalized infants and children and home care pediatric patients.  Another mission is to work with inventors and industry to develop technology that gives real time non-radiologic verification of NG tube placement.

Northington became involved with the NOVEL project while a director on the board of SPN. She has continued to be the SPN representative in this group and has been very active in research and dissemination of research findings. The group has published several articles and a white paper.

Dr. Lynn Mohr, a past president of SPN from Rush University College of Nursing, has worked closely with Northington over the years.

“Dr. Northington’s professionalism and ability to work with a diverse team far exceeds other professionals,” said Mohr. “She possesses an exception level of pediatric knowledge and skills and easily converses with others regarding virtually any topic.”

Northington’s colleagues at UMMC are not surprised she ascended to the position of president.

Portrait of Robin Wilkerson

“LaDonna has always been a leader – from her early days as a staff nurse in the PICU, until now as a visionary leader in our School of Nursing,” said Dr. Robin Wilkerson, professor emeritus in the School of Nursing. “She possesses great intellect, enviable clinical skills, and she cares deeply for her patients and her colleagues. LaDonna has given much to UMMC and to our nursing profession.”

Her long list of awards and honors reflect her history of leadership and success. In both 2008 and 2012, students selected her for the Norman C. Nelson Order, which honors UMMC’s best teachers. The Mississippi Nurses Association awarded her the Nightingale Award for Nursing Faculty of the Year in 2010.

In 2012 she received the Higher Education Appreciation – Working for Academic Excellence Outstanding Faculty Honoree. In 2017, the School of Nursing Alumni Association named her Nursing Alumnus of the Year.

Both the District 13 Nurses Association and the Mississippi Nurses Association named her pediatric/neonatal and critical care nurse of the year several times over her career as a bedside nurse.

Northington will begin her two-year term as SPN president in April at SPN’s annual convention.