Nursing alumna Shunta Johnson honored for service to health care community
With a little prodding, Shunta Johnson decided it was time to go back to school.
Johnson was more than a decade into a career as an orthopedic nurse for BJC HealthCare, but one of her co-workers helped her realize she was capable of more.
And that co-worker, Ann Falker, clinical nurse specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, would not stop reminding her of that fact.
“I kept saying, ‘You’re great here in ortho, but your future is just so much brighter,’” said Falker, who is currently the president of the national Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board. “She was a little hesitant. Actually, she was quite a bit hesitant. I made it my mission to get Shunta back in school and achieve the future that I could see was there for her.”
Johnson enrolled at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and graduated with her BSN in 2010, then followed it up with an MSN in 2015. She credits her time at UMSL with elevating her capabilities in her four current nursing roles – three within the BJC system and one for a private-practice internist.
On April 27, in recognition of her 27 years of working at BJC – the past 21 as a nurse – she was one of eight health care professionals honored at the annual St. Louis American Foundation Salute to Excellence in Health Care awards luncheon. She stood on the stage at the Hilton St. Louis Frontenac and listened as her career accomplishments were announced to a room of around 450 attendees.
Johnson’s not used to that sort of publicity.
“I am one of those people who kind of shies away from the spotlight, just one of those people who tries to do the right thing, gets things done, takes care of people the way I’d want myself or my family to be taken care of,” Johnson said. “I don’t really require recognition. I was really nervous, but it was an honor.”
Johnson says her current workload usually translates to six days a week on the clock. For BJC, she works as a nurse in the Pain Management Center, a nurse practitioner at Alton Memorial Convenient Care in Godfrey, Illinois, and as a nurse practitioner in the orthopedic department at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. She also performs house calls for patients of Rick Hummel, a St. Louis-based internist.
Those visits concern trying to keep patients out of the hospital.
“A lot of those patients have high blood pressure, renal disease, they have a lot of comorbidities,” Johnson said. “My job is to make sure their comorbidities are being managed, which keeps them from any future problems and also allows them to avoid being readmitted.”
It’s an exhausting schedule to keep, but that’s something Johnson is used to. Falker recognized that work ethic when Johnson served as her wound nurse, nurse educator and maintainer of the “Managing Daily Improvements” performance board on the orthopedic floor at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
“I’ve always been impressed by her desire to be an excellent nurse and to provide excellent nursing care,” Falker said. “She had been making her impact in ortho, but there comes a time when you have to extend yourself, go outside of your comfort zone and achieve the potential you want to achieve. Sometimes you have to stretch your wings.”
Johnson was a full-time student during pursuit of her bachelor’s degree at UMSL, while still working as a nurse and serving as a single mother to her children, Devin and Azaria. Her daughter was in middle school. Her son was in high school and went off to college around the same time Johnson was going back.
“I spent the remaining time that I had my eyes open with my kids,” Johnson said. “It was tough, but my son told me the other day, ‘I never remember you missing a game, never remember you missing a teacher’s conference.’ I just did what needed to be done at that time.”
With a bachelor’s degree in hand, another conversation helped convince Johnson to go back for her master’s and nurse practitioner certification. She was talking over her options with her grandmother, Mary Temple, who told Johnson she saw no reason to stop where she was. It was the last conversation the two shared before Temple passed away.
It took nearly three years for Johnson to apply again, her grandmother’s words resonating in her mind.
“She said, ‘You’d be perfect for it. You love people, you’re good at what you do,’” Johnson said. “I think a little bit of my hesitation was having to relive that conversation, and I didn’t really want to relive that and do all of the application process, because it just brought back memories.
“At the last minute, I decided I was going to do it. I was probably the last person to turn in my application. They were, like, closing and locking the door on the last day to turn that application in.”
Johnson gained acceptance to UMSL again and earned her MSN and certification from the post-MSN Family Nurse Practitioner Program. During her master’s course of study, Johnson worked on a research project with Pat Potter, then the director of research for patient care services at Barnes-Jewish.
UMSL helped open Johnson’s eyes to what was possible in the nursing profession.
“I felt like UMSL really prepared me from an educational standpoint, and then, just career-wise, it put me in an awesome position to be able to build off of the skills and hone in on some of the things I learned,” she said. “The people that had surrounded me gave me the confidence and the courage to continue to want to grow and be the best that I could be.”
She didn’t feel out of place on that stage at the Hilton. Even if she wasn’t entirely comfortable in the spotlight.
“When people hear that you come from UMSL, they know you come from an awesome school and you’re well-prepared,” Johnson said. “I plan to continue to use the skills that I’ve learned and the growth and the development that UMSL has provided to me to make a difference in the world, in the community, with people.”
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