Nursing degree provides career diversification

Shannon KennedyObservation, assessment and care—those are the skills that Shannon Kennedy says one must possess to be a neonatal nurse. The newborns in the nursery at Midland Memorial Hospital's (MMH) West Campus can't speak for themselves; thankfully, they have Kennedy to be their advocate. She has been working as a registered nurse in the nursery since she graduated from Midland College's (MC) associate degree nursing program and obtained her license in 2005.

However, Kennedy was observing and assessing creatures even before she took her first nursing class. And, nursing is not her first degree by any means! Before deciding that caring for newborns was her calling, Kennedy was taking care of animals. "I graduated from Midland High School in 1991 and then went to LSU [Louisiana  State University] where I obtained a bachelor's degree in animal science," explains Kennedy. "The entire time I was at LSU, I was dating my high school sweetheart, and I moved back to Midland to get married."

In Midland, she found that there were very few career opportunities for someone with a degree in animal science, so she enrolled in MC's veterinary technology program and obtained an associate's degree in veterinary technology. Kennedy says, "Like babies, animals can't speak for themselves."

By the time she began working in Midland as a registered veterinary technician, Kennedy and her husband and a son, and the family relied upon her income to help make ends meet. Also, she wanted the opportunity for career advancement, wanted medical insurance and needed a set schedule so that she could care for her young family. So, she went to MC for a second time, and that's when she got her nursing degree.

"My job is very rewarding, and I love working for Midland Memorial Hospital," says Kennedy. She works part-time—three days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. She says that this schedule allows her to be available to her children. (Her son is 9, and she also has a 5-year-old daughter.) In addition to taking care of the newborns, Kennedy's responsibilities also include interacting with and educating the mothers about carrying for their babies. Kennedy states, "Nursing has opened lots of avenues for me. Nurses can diversify into so many different areas."

One of these avenues for Kennedy is being a nurse at a children's summer camp. For one month every summer, MMH allows her to take time off to attend Camp Champions near Marble Falls with her children. "This is a nice change of pace from hospital nursing, but I am still able to use my nursing skills and make some money while enjoying the beautiful Texas Hill Country," explains Kennedy. She and her husband first became involved with Camp Champions as camp counselors. Then, when Kennedy became a registered nurse, she continued to spend a month every summer at the camp working as a nurse.

Kennedy now has found even another way to diversify. In October 2010, JoAnne Enderson, a friend and fellow nurse, encouraged Kennedy to enroll in MC's new online HITECH Electronic Health Records (EHR) program, which she completed in May. The HITECH program is part of a nationwide effort to get healthcare records into electronic format (see related story). JoAnne was interested in the program and wanted me to take it, also, so that we could give each other moral support," explains Kennedy. "Since this is a grant program, tuition is completely reimbursable, so I figured I didn't have anything to lose."

Having completed the program, Kennedy now has the skills necessary for serving as a clinician/practitioner consultant for healthcare facilities converting to electronic records. Kennedy currently serves on MMH's informatics council, but says that at this time, she has no plans for leaving neonatal nursing. However, the additional EHR credential is just another way she is using her MC nursing degree to expand her skills and make her more marketable in the rewarding field of nursing.