What SMC’s nursing program taught a paramedic

Published 1:58 pm Monday, December 13, 2021

DOWAGIAC — When Jennifer Stout completed Southwestern Michigan College’s nursing program in 2019, she received a Florence Nightingale award voted by her classmates. Her class was first to experience SMC’s new Nursing and Health Services Building, and to train in its simulation lab.

“When I started, I remember thinking, what can they teach me,” Stout said. “A lot! As a paramedic, I was trained to make critical life-changing decisions in the snap of a finger. With nursing we think in the moment but also more long-term, taking into consideration family because on the hospital side, they are a key part of delivering good patient care. I learned to look at a bigger picture.”

She might never have discovered her nursing passion if knee surgeries hadn’t curtailed her first love, working for the Elkhart Fire Department for 11 years and being a paramedic for 23 years. Division chief was her goal, but an icy fall in a car accident in 2009 ended her dual EFD career. She volunteered as a paramedic with Osolo EMS and was also a Beacon paramedic until she passed NCLEX for her RN license.

Stout joined Beacon Health System in 2010 as a paramedic/nuclear stress tech, becoming a cardiac device technician, RN device coordinator and now RN clinical supervisor.

Testing and troubleshooting pacemakers and defibrillators and growing this heart-failure management clinic, she oversees three South Bend and two Elkhart employees.

In March, as the first nurse allowed to address the board, Stout made a persuasive case for Murj, a cardiac device data management software that will yield a paperless environment, increase revenue and enhance patient safety.

Stout was recognized as a 2020 Customer Service Champion by Beacon, parent of South Bend Memorial and Elkhart General hospitals.

In June 2022, the Niles resident expects to complete her Eastern Michigan University BSN degree.

After graduating from SMC, she continued as a professional nursing tutor for the Carole A. Tate Learning Center through 2020.

Born in Oneonta, N.Y., her family moved to Middlebury in 1977. She graduated from Northridge High School in 1988.

“When I speak now,” she said, “I can provide rationale for my decisions. I am confident in decisions I make because of this. How I provide care for device patients includes whoever accompanies them. I take time to give information that will make them feel part of their care and not some medical provider throwing jargon at them. A sign in my office explains me perfectly: When you enter you are amazing, kind, tough, brave, loved, safe, smart, understood, respected, strong, cared for, wonderful, important, special, super extraordinary. You are the reason I am here.

“I still think quickly and critically,” Stout continued, “but with patience and forethought to think about what I am going to say. SMC’s nursing program helped me see how important it is to make every single patient know this.”

During the nursing program, she went to school full-time, attended clinicals and worked full-time.

“Coursework was overwhelming at times,” she said. “Unfortunately, certain activities I literally could not do for a while — vacations, going to the beach, shopping, movies. I missed some family birthdays, baby showers and get-togethers. When it came to my daughters I tried to be present when it mattered most, going to softball games — working on homework while watching — lacrosse games, senior pictures, winter formal, prom. Prom day/night was so important for me to be there for hair/make-up, getting ready and taking pictures.”

While the daily grind oof the nursing program was taxing, Stout appreciates her family’s support.

“My godson, Ayden, calls me Mimi,” she said. “Mimi took him on adventures, got down on the floor and played farm or dinosaurs. He was six when I started. It was so hard for him to see Mimi sit at the table doing homework. He would ask me to play and I had to say, ‘I can’t honey, I have to do schoolwork.’ He was too young to understand, but I heard his little voice during my pinning ceremony yelling ‘Yay! That’s my Mimi.’

“When I wasn’t working on homework, I worked from home, from school between classes, at the office on weekends. There were times I took one of my girls or Ayden with me. I recorded my notes and listened to them driving. I lived and breathed school and work. My husband and kids paid a price, but they never stopped supporting me.”