Jessie Smith has known since she was a small child that she wanted to be a nurse.
“I played ‘nurse’ with my stuffed animals and baby dolls. As I grew older, I knew I wanted to do something in my career that is challenging and makes a difference in people’s lives,” she said, adding that this solidified her desire to go to nursing school.
Smith says that several years after becoming a registered nurse, a family member became seriously ill, and her nurse practitioner was instrumental in the family member’s treatment and recovery.
“While visiting her in the hospital, I was inspired by the practitioner’s ability to intercede for patients by understanding their needs, making them feel comfortable, and promptly administering care when needed,” she said. “I believed it would be an honor to do the same for other families. That’s when I knew I was going to become a nurse practitioner.”
Smith’s parents were in the military, so the family lived in multiple states when she was a child, and were also stationed in Germany.
“When I was about 10 years old, we settled in Georgia, and I have lived in Georgia since,” she said. “I grew up in Effingham County. My husband and I moved out to Metter for the small town country living, and have been here for about 12 years now.”
Smith attended South Effingham High School, where she graduated in 2002. She came to Statesboro to attend Georgia Southern University, where she earned her BSN and graduated in 2006. She went on to attend Frontier School of Midwifery and Family Nursing, where she earned an MSN as a family nurse practitioner. After her graduation in 2011, she returned to Frontier about 14 months ago to obtain a psych/mental health certificate and midwifery degree.
“I hope to be finished next summer and be able to offer our patients the best care possible,” she said. Smith currently works at East Georgia Women’s Center in Statesboro, a job she’s held for several years.
“I worked in women’s health and pediatrics as a registered nurse, so I knew that I wanted to continue my career in one of those fields,” she said. “I was lucky enough to have found an office close to home that needed a nurse practitioner, and with much excitement, I started here at East Georgia Women’s Center in 2012.”
Smith says she loves having the ability make an impact on the issues that women uniquely face, as well as being that much-needed expert resource for patients and their families. Working in women’s health is, she says, exactly what she expected.
“Every day is different. Some days I see pregnant mothers, some days adolescents, and other days, grandmothers. I get to see patients in different stages of their lives, from early teens until late 90s,” she said. “Each patient is something new and different. I function as a primary care provider for many of them.”
Smith also helps women prepare for the birth of their babies, and she helps console women through loss, cancer, divorce and more — proving that she goes above and beyond the job description.
“I love what I do. I think taking care of women was definitely my calling in life,” she said.
In addition to her tenure in Statesboro, Smith has also worked as a registered nurse at Candler Hospital on the pediatric floor, and at Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah, on the labor and delivery floor. She worked for a short time at Vidalia Children’s center in pediatrics as well.
Smith says that emotional strength and compassion are key components to working in women’s health.
“Along with the joyful parts of working with women, such as caring for a patient through a healthy pregnancy, comes the more challenging side of the role, conveying the news of an unhealthy pregnancy or helping a family process the grief and pain that comes with miscarriages or diagnosis of a congenital disability. Working with women has taught me how to be more compassionate and empathetic. I hope these qualities I continue to build during my career in women’s health will also make me a greater mother and wife,” she said.
Smith has learned much since stepping on the floor for the first time as a nurse. She says timing and the ability to manage emotions are critical, and that many organizations are focused on productivity. But she believes that a person becomes a nurse or NP because he or she has a need to nurse, and wants to spend the necessary time with patients to help them. She adds that all too often, productivity has become the focus in healthcare, and nurses constantly work against the clock.
Part of the job, she says, entails having to communicate difficult information to patients, and/or their families. She works hard to try to avoid getting too involved in the emotional side of things, while remaining compassionate and helping the patients work through the emotions they are feeling.
“I am still working on not bringing the emotions home with me,” she said.
Out of all the things that she has to do, Smith says she truly enjoys educating patients the most. She says that healthcare providers sometimes don’t recognize that patients don’t understand what is happening. She works to make sure she has the time to have a conversation with her patients, to give them the opportunity to ask questions without being rushed.
When asked about her strengths as an NP, Smith says that she is determined, and shows perseverance.
“I believe I am tenacious. I never give up. I fight for my patients, whether that’s for a safe home, clothing, food or insurance preauthorization for my patient’s medications,” she said. “I believe that integrity is a quality that I possess as a NP, and those who know me would agree.”
Because of the experiences that people had during the pandemic, Smith says that it’s crucial for healthcare providers to recognize those impacts on the people they care for. The offices at East Georgia Women’s Center remained open in the early days, but Smith says people were afraid to come in, despite social distancing and masks. She worked to accommodate people by doing check-ins by phone after hours. She often found herself offering support to patients even more, as they had to come in for appointments alone due to the protocols in place at the time.
“I found myself spending extra time with them outside of office hours waiting with them to be seen at the women’s pavilion or waiting as they were prepared for deliver until their support person arrived,” she said.
She added that COVID caused EGWC employees to have to get creative in how they supported pregnant patients.
“I have worked on setting up an online group where patients can be peer mentors and share their lived experiences,” she said. “This can be important not only during social distancing but also outside of the pandemic for people who would like extra support.”
Helping people outside of work hours and expected duties is nothing new for Smith. She says she loves helping people, and finds great joy in serving others.
“Our office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., but that doesn’t mean I quit caring at 5. As a nurse practitioner, community member, mom, sister, friend, I believe it is important to help others who need it. I like to pay attention to the people around me and see how I can make their lives a little easier. Any act of kindness or simple gesture can improve someone’s day. Helping people creates a stronger community and a happier society for everyone,” she said.
One of the areas where she helps people is something that she knows about firsthand. Smith has worked with Toombs/Montgomery Cares for several years. It’s a nonprofit organization that helps those who have battled or are battling cancer. As a cancer survivor herself, she knows how important it is to get help with transportation to appointments, with prescriptions or even just a hot meal. She says she’s hoping to bring a chapter of the organization to Bulloch County soon.
Smith and her husband have been married for 18 years, and the couple has three children: Brittany, 17; Aiden, 14; and Jacob, who is 8. She enjoys doing makeup, as well as outdoor activities like kayaking, fishing and hunting. She also loves going camping. She is a saxophone player, and says it’s been a while, but she’s ready to “dust it off and get back into playing.” She is also a pet mama to her two parakeets, Skye and Blu.
Smith calls her husband her biggest mentor and her soulmate.
“His moral values have taught me to be a kind and humble person. For many years, whenever I faced any difficulty or any bad situation, he stood with me and supported me at every aspect,” she said.
Smith says that she knows that she needs to constantly grow and improve, and that she can’t do that on her own. She says she has to learn from the wisdom of others.
“Dr. Palmer has been that mentor for me here at East Georgia Women’s Center,” she said. She also points to her dear friend and coworker, Sherry Barnes, who passed away from complications due to COVID in February.
“She was a beautiful soul and an angel here on earth. She was a great phlebotomist, coworker, friend, mother, sister, aunt, and community member. She was deeply involved in the community and her church. She loved everyone and anyone. Those who knew her were blessed. I can only hope that I am able to touch the lives of others in the way that she did. She was a true everyday hero,” Smith said.
As for being nominated by her mother as an everyday hero herself, Smith says that we all must think about how we can take action to help others.
“All of us have the potential to exhibit the behavior we consider heroic,” she said. “It is an honor for someone to think of me as a hero, but I do not label myself as such. I do not do what I do to receive special awards or recognition. I do it because it is my passion. If you don’t go home every day thinking of one small thing you could have done better, you are losing your passion.”
Do you know someone who is an Everyday Hero? E-mail our editor at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us all about him or her…we’d love to feature your hero in an upcoming issue!