Our Nurses Know: Impact
Kim Smith has been working at Michigan Medicine for 32 years, helping patients and families in units and departments across the academic medical center.
“I’ve spent time in the surgical ICU, the Medical Procedures Unit, the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) and now in geriatrics,” said Smith, a nurse who originally came to the organization in 1986. “I feel like I’ve seen it all — and at each stop, I’ve seen how wonderful our teams are and how much our work is valued by those we serve.”
But over the years, Smith’s impact has branched out far beyond the walls of Michigan Medicine — and is now felt thousands of miles away by individuals who need it the most.
Decades of devotion
In the late 1990s, Smith decided to join others from her church on a mission trip to a small mountain village named Seguin in the Caribbean nation of Haiti.
“We went with the goal of building a clinic, a school and a church — all things that I’m passionate about and are integral to areas of the world with few resources,” Smith said. “While we were there, people in our group started talking to villagers and found out that women and children were walking three to four hours a day just to find water that wasn’t even clean. We knew we needed to do something about that.”
So a man in the church group came up with a concept to help villagers catch rainwater from their homes and use it for whatever purposes they need. That innovation led to the creation of the nonprofit Raincatchers, and Smith was hooked as a regular volunteer and team leader.
“I now go four times a year to install these rain catching systems,” Smith said, noting that she has helped the nonprofit install more than 2,000 over the past 12 years. She’s also expanded her volunteer efforts in Haiti to performing physicals and other health exams on children at an orphanage.
“It’s a thrill to know that I can use the skills I’ve gained as a nurse here — such as problem-solving, teamwork and patient care techniques — to influence those across the globe,” Smith said. “This is work that I was meant to do.”
Not slowing down
When home in Michigan, Smith said her position as a geriatrics nurse puts her in a unique position to influence patients and families.
“Many people think of geriatrics care as end-of-life care, but that’s not the case,” Smith said. “Our team — which includes physicians, nurses, medical assistants, social workers and so many more — understands that those seeking our care are simply on another part of their life journey and we try to keep them as active and healthy as possible along the way.”
To help in that regard, Smith triages phone calls from patients, teaches them about disease management techniques, meets with walk-ins in the clinic at East Ann Arbor and instructs individuals on how to use inhalers or other medical devices.
“Every shift is different, but that just allows me to see more patients and build more personal relationships,” Smith said. “It’s not unusual to get a call at work from patients who specifically ask for me. It’s a great feeling to know how comfortable we’ve made them and how we’ve improved things in their life.”
Smith isn’t thinking of slowing down any time soon — either at Michigan Medicine or in Haiti. In fact, she’s considering heading down to the Caribbean even more often in the years ahead.
“I have so much fun doing what I do, especially when I see the smiles on the faces of those I help,” Smith said. “Why would I want to stop doing that? I plan to keep going strong as long as I can.”