When you ask Jamie Penrod, instructional assistant professor, about her students, her face lights up. “We get the cream of the crop,” she says. “MCN students are very competitive, intelligent, good test takers, and—most importantly—eager to learn. They’re just such a fantastic group to work with.”

Jamie’s teaching interests center around caring attributes in nurses. She’s interested in students’ perceptions of mental illness, working to dispel their stereotypes and provide them with the tools necessary for providing quality care.

“One of the coolest things about working here is that everyone’s goal is for better patient care in a broken health care system,” she says. This is the heart of Jamie’s work here at MCN: she acknowledges the challenges in the system of health care, and she works to give her students the tools necessary to create real, lasting change.

Asking the tough questions

One way Jamie does this is by encouraging her students to ask questions and think outside the box. She tells them, “Not so long ago, textbooks said that being queer was a mental illness. Years later, this was removed. I want you to be embracing and caring for vulnerable populations before the textbooks change because how a nurse sees people instead of labels is critical.” 

“I want students to think. I don’t want them to blindly believe what I say or what a book says.”

She reminds them of the power structures behind nursing research, too, and she encourages students to think critically about what they read. For example, when a new medication comes out, who sponsored the research for the medication? Who profits from this medication? How long as it been available? Have they been able to assess long-term effects?

“I don’t want them to blindly believe what I say or what a book says. I want them to challenge what they hear and learn, and I want them to research the topics beyond one source.”

Ultimately, for Jamie, these critical thinking skills are essential to being a caring nurse. “My message is research so you can find out what you believe. Make your own decisions. Health care has changed. It used to be about taking care of people, but now it’s too often the business of taking care of people.”

How MCN nurses are transforming care

When they’re out of the classroom, it can be hard for nurses to ask the tough questions. “You aren’t going to agree with everything your workplace believes and practices. Sometimes if you choose to work at a place that has a certain belief, you have to walk in and put your beliefs on a shelf. Before accepting a job offer, you decide whether or not you can do that. Know the mission statement and philosophy of where you work. Then, do the best you can to provide care for the patients. Hopefully, you can bring in your ideas in the right way to help your workplace improve their practice.” 

“The students, they bring so much light to the unit. They bring care, compassion, and energy, too.”

She has seen this in action, too. Jamie emphasizes the important work that RN-BSN students are doing in their current workplaces. “They’re different from traditional students because they already have their license and they’re working nurses. They learn a concept each week, then apply it to their lived nursing practice. It’s incredible to see.”

In her leadership Capstone course, one student initiated and implemented a change in circumcision practice at her hospital. Having found discrepancies between current practices and best evidence-based practices, she presented the literature to health care management. “She learned that newborn babies experience less discomfort when they suck on a sucrose [sugar] pacifier during the circumcision procedure,” says Jamie. “The policy and procedure were then changed as a result of the student’s project. Now, those babies are in less pain.”

While she loves all of her roles, Jamie’s passion lies in mental health clinicals. “My psych. students are scared to death the first day, but they don’t want to leave by the end,” she says.

Jamie knows that jumping from the books to the floor can be quite the learning curve for students: “Fundamental growth happens here. Nurses have to communicate with people who are different from themselves—have to connect with that human being and see their unique personality.”

The students rise to the challenge, too. One semester, at a clinical site, “there was a patient who was semi-catatonic. The students got her to dance to music by the end of the semester. This improvement—it was because of the students. She’s not better, but she’s better.” She shakes her head in admiration. “The students, they bring so much light to the unit. They bring care, compassion, and energy, too.”  

“Fundamental growth happens here… it’s all about how we can help students become excellent caregivers for their patients.”

This spring, her clinical group chose to use adult coloring books, play BINGO with the patients, and give them manicures. “There’s this belief that if someone is physically touching and watching and doing something, they have less internal stimuli in that moment,” Jamie says. “Those moments help reality come out, which helps the patient move to a higher level of wellness.”

She also adds, “The students see that they make a difference, which feeds their desire to make a difference. That energy from the students impacts the patients. It’s a full circle.”

After all, at MCN, our focus is on improving patient care. “Whether we’re doing research or teaching undergraduate or undergraduate courses, it’s all about how we can help students become excellent caregivers for their patients.”

What keeps her centered

Caring for so many patients and students at different clinical locations can leave someone stretched thin—but not Jamie. She seems to gain strength and energy from seeing her students grow. What keeps her centered? “My home and mate in our own little paradise,” she says wistfully, “and of course my spiritual core.”

At the end of a long day, her home in the cornfields calls her back like a talisman. Outside of work, you can find her gardening and canning the fruits of her labor, surrounded by a menagerie of animals—goats, chicken, duck, peafowl, and turkeys. Yet you get the feeling she finds paradise wherever she goes. “I’m an earthy mama,” she says. “I have a wonderful career and I live and love in a nice world. What more could I want?”