Sometimes people branch out in their careers to venture into new territory. Other times, it’s to test the waters. Kimberly Stevens, an award-winning registered nurse (RN) at Greenwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Bowling Green, Ky., shares her career path and why she decided to stay in her licensed practical nurse (LPN) role for so many years.

Provider: Tell us about your role.
Stevens: I’ve been a charge nurse for several years as an LPN and RN. I just got my RN about a year and a half ago. In this facility, I’ve been here for two years as a charge nurse.

I’ve done upper management positions, but I like being in my patients’ faces. I’m a people person, and I just like to be there. I tried the assistant director of nursing as an LPN under an RN and didn’t like that as much.

Provider: How did you get your start in skilled nursing care?
Stevens: I was in Danville, Pa., where I was born and raised. Went to nursing school there as an LPN. I started at a hospital on a half pediatric unit. It was an overflow for a pediatric unit, and for patients with diabetes and kidney issues. The reason I went to long term care is because the first person I had to get ready for the morgue was a 10-year-old boy. And I knew from that point on. To this day I could still hear the mother scream when she lost her son. So I thought, I’ve got to go to the other end of the spectrum, and I’ve been doing this ever since.

Provider: Tell us about your career path.
Stevens: When you work in the center that I worked in, you realize there’s a lot of things that RNs can do that I can’t do. And I had to go to an RN and ask them to do it for me. And it was frustrating to me because even though I had been an LPN for so long, I knew how to do the things that they could do, I just needed a license for it. So that’s why I went back to nursing school. I want to be able to flush a pick line and not have to bother another nurse to do that for me. It’s just one of those things.

I also [thought I] wanted to be a director of nursing at my own facility one day. But then I saw that they are not with the patients nearly as much.

I’m 52, I don’t see myself down the road ever retiring, I seriously don’t see it. I think I’d go crazy. I just like being out and being with people and taking care of them. I want them to not just physically get better, but spiritually and in their own souls. I realized you’ve got to make them laugh. They are in a sick environment, so you’ve got to make them laugh to feel better.

Provider: What have been the biggest lessons for you?
Stevens: Listen to your CNAs [certified nurse assistants]. It’s very important because they are your eyes and your ears on the floor. You need to hear them and listen to what they have to say. And it may not be that big of importance, but a few days later it could be huge. So look into it right there and then.

Another lesson is that health care has changed since 30 years ago. Patients are coming out of the hospitals a lot sicker into long term care. So you need to be on top of things. You need to know what you’re doing. You need to really listen to CNAs. Because they pick up on things you may not pick up on because they are in the rooms more than you are.

Provider: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve noticed?
Stevens: Nowadays I know that LPNs don’t get into hospitals as a career path. And hospitals now are hiring all RNs. I know a lot of hospitals now are going for nurses with a bachelor of science degree in nursing, not just associate nurses, and I think that’s one of the biggest challenges.

And what I’ve noticed over the years is that just because you have an RN, it doesn’t mean that the LPN under you doesn’t know what they’re doing. I’ve been a LPN for 30 years, and I ran circles around most RNs because I was a task nurse, and I learned so much because I wanted to do things. I wanted to learn.

So I think as an RN, there is a ladder, of course, with education but we’re all team players. We’ve got to work cohesively no matter what the title is. Even our director of nursing, she works beside us. When someone calls in, and she’s on call, she’s right there beside us. She does whatever needs to be done. She works as a CNA, she works as a med-tech. She does whatever needs to get done.

Provider: Everyone knows that staffing is a challenge these days. What are your thoughts on that?
Stevens: In long term care facilities, it’s a different beast than that of a hospital. A whole different beast. The last company I worked with, I worked there for 24 years. The grass is not greener on the other side. You go and be the best nurse that you can be for that patient. Because you’re not there for the management, you’re not there for the staff, you’re there for the patient. And you have to keep that focus.

Also, take care of yourself. That’s the very first thing you have to do is take care of yourself. People in this industry, they work so much overtime they burn themselves out. And they don’t want to do it anymore.
When I was a younger nurse, I worked a lot of overtime. I also had a family. As an older nurse, I don’t work as much overtime. Could I use a little extra money? Probably so. But at the end of the day, I know I have to be the best nurse that I can be. Or the best mother. Or the best wife.

This is a very tough industry. Nursing is tough. You give out so much throughout your day. I work a 12-hour shift. At the end of my day when I go home, I just need some time to regroup before I can give my family anything. So I go take a bubble bath, and I come back out and I’m refreshed.

Provider: Yes, burnout is an issue.
Stevens: People jump around in a lot of places. And everywhere you go, there’s going to be issues. And not only in nursing, but in other jobs, too. But you’re there to take care of the patient. And if you stay patient goal-oriented, then I think you’ll stay right where you are, and you’ll do what you know how to do, and you’ll be the best that you know how to be. That’s the way I look at it. I don’t go running around looking for other jobs.

Provider: What would you say to your younger self?
Stevens: Go back to nursing school quicker. When I met my husband 25 years ago, I was going to nursing school. And I met him, I knew him for three months, I sold everything I had and moved to Mexico City, Mexico. I got married, and then after four years we had our son. We had our daughter three years after that, and then, raising a family became more important at that time. When they got to be teenagers, I had this inkling that I wanted to go back [to school]. And my husband and I talked about it. My feeling about it got stronger and stronger.

When we stepped out of the boat in 2008, his company went under, and it was on me. I was working, so I did online nursing [classes] because I had to keep working full time. I got my RN. I didn’t go to the classroom. I actually had a blow-up doll as a patient. I took an oil bottle and put a hecklock in there and made my own pickline. You should have seen it, it was awesome. I would say go back to school earlier.

Stevens was given the Professional Achievement Award for Nursing Care during the Kentucky Health Care Association and Kentucky Center for Assisted Living Quality Awards Banquet Nov. 21, 2019. Stay tuned to future issues for more interviews with individuals from all walks of care.