West Point graduate Wendy Blount has flown Blackhawk helicopters in combat. But she says that was nothing compared to attending Lorain County Community College to earn a nursing degree.
“It was a challenging experience,” says Blount, a retired Army captain. “I was more stressed going through LCCC’s program than going through West Point, combat and flying helicopters. It’s a tough program because it’s a tough profession. If we don’t have the information we need, we will make mistakes on the floor.”
Blount, a staff nurse at University Hospitals’ Bedford Medical Center, says going back to school at age 42 to begin a new career wasn’t easy.
“But my professors wanted me to succeed, and they helped me on a very personal level,” she says. “I never felt alone. I knew I could get through this with their help. LCCC emphasized that idea of personal service in the nursing program, and that has helped me tap in to my natural inclination to get to know my patients.”
Other students were also critical to her success.
“Between the invaluable tutoring and the extensive library, I had everything I needed,” she says. “I thought, ‘This is not a community college, it’s a university.’”
Her success at LCCC followed her into her first year on the job, earning her University Hospitals’ coveted Pinnacle Award, which honors those whose outstanding success is a model for excellence.
A diverse pathway takes an unexpected new direction
From her background playing soccer as an IT student at West Point Academy, to her decades of service moving up the ranks in the Army, Blount says her career path has taken her in a direction she least expected.
“I finally got pregnant just as I was about to make a big move with my military career, so I decided instead to stay home and raise my children,” Blount says.
But as her children grew, Blount was ready to re-enter the workforce. She looked at getting back into IT, but the technology had changed so drastically since she had earned her degree that she needed additional classes before relaunching her career.
“I started looking at LCCC for computer programming classes, but as I reviewed the curriculum, I realized I had no interest in it any more,” Blount says.
She began considering careers in which she could work with people and make a difference.
“I thought about my father, who has multiple sclerosis, and began to think about going into physical therapy,” she says.
But instead she decided on nursing.
“I would still get to work with physical therapists, but I would also be able to expand my role,” she says. “I began to get excited.”
Going back to school brings exciting challenges
Blount applied for — and was accepted to — LCCC’s nursing program.
“I heard LCCC has one of the harder programs to get into — and is one of the best in the area — so I was very psyched,” she says.
LCCC Nurse Management Professor Marianne Carvour acknowledges the program is challenging, but students benefit from the difficulty.
“Our nursing grads are heavily sought out because of our rigorous curriculum,” she says.
LCCC stays competitive by meeting with potential employers to learn about their needs and how to best meet them, and by forming relationships with those employees.
“We use that information to tailor-teach our students,” she says. That, and a well-established rapport with the community, also help with placement for graduates.
Carvour says instructors get to know their students as people first, not just as students.
“Everyone comes to us with different skill sets and different life experiences,” she says. “We attempt to meet each student where they are and use that to help them meet outcomes of the program.”
LCCC faculty lead with a personal touch
Getting started wasn’t easy for Blount.
“I joked around with my professors that going back to school at 42 did not come easy,” she says. “Fellow students were younger and had different life responsibilities. It was overwhelming.”
But LCCC supported her every step of the way.
“LCCC puts great effort into creating a personal program for students,” she says. “Because of that, I feel I received a major university-style program in a small classroom setting.”
Lecture classes held no more than 40, and classes were generally 12 to 15 students.
“I felt I was the teachers’ sole focus and they wanted to help me succeed,” she says.
While Blount credits the college, Carvour — who taught her in a management leadership class, a capstone course for nursing — says her former student played a huge role in her own success.
“She has a natural sense of caring, and her background in the military gave her a great deal of transferrable skills,” she says. “She is professional, courteous, respectful, prompt, prepared and well organized. In getting to know Wendy, I saw that she had an interesting career path, so we tried to incorporate her background and experience to carve a new future.”
They discussed melding Blount’s IT background with her nursing training to seek a future in nursing informatics — working different data sets to collect information about patients to help with diagnosis, short-term treatment and long-term management.
A new home and career at Bedford Medical
Prior to graduation, Blount worked in a floating pool of nurses at 2 Central Bedford Medical Center, a University Hospitals organization.
“I loved the family feel of it and loved being able to float among the different floors of the hospital,” she says. “I learned so much and met so many supportive and welcoming people.”
Her current manager, Dawn White, knew she would make a great addition to the UH family, and at graduation, Blount was offered a permanent position.
“At Bedford, our mission is to treat everyone as we would our own family member — that’s also the culture UH strives for,” she says. “We want someone in nursing for the right reasons, someone with the right personality. Wendy has a natural knack for connecting with people. She spends a little extra time with her patients, always going above and beyond, relating to them, sharing stories of her own experience to make them feel comfortable — even singing — and connecting with the family.”
Blount gets to know patients and sees them as individuals. For example, one of her patients, a fellow veteran and a man of faith, was struggling. Blount connected with him and his family, praying with them and singing “Amazing Grace” to bring comfort. The experience was so meaningful to the family that the details moved up the chain of command.
Blount also brings innovative ideas to staff meetings to improve processes and patient satisfaction.
“Wendy is a treasure trove of ideas for improving processes,” White says. “She came up with the suggestion of having us use a system called Visilert to keep track of our bedside checks, and it has really made a difference.”
All of which culminated with her receiving the Pinnacle Award. Blount was honored Jan. 16, 2018, during the System Leadership Meeting at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Cleveland.
The UH Achieves Pinnacle Award celebrates non-management employees whose success is a model for excellence and who deliver excellent patient care, innovate a new product or care standard, improve quality or safety standards, or make a process improvement that enhances efficiency or reduces costs.
“I was deeply humbled and honored to receive such a prestigious award for doing what I love,” she says. “UH has provided me the opportunity to grow and develop my skills. We see the patients and their families in their most vulnerable times, and it is critical to meet their emotional and spiritual needs, as well as their physical needs. I appreciate the chance to use that award as a platform to spotlight all the good things happening at Bedford.”