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Nurse Practitioner Highlight

Meet Jerilyn Freeman, APRN, Liberty Hospitalists­­­­

I always tell people I didn't choose my profession; my profession chose me.

I graduated from high school when I was 16. I wanted to get a degree in journalism and write for the New York Times and live in an apartment the size of a minivan in Manhattan. The problem with that plan was that I grew up very poor and was even homeless at times.

I am a first-generation high school graduate and the first in my family ever to attempt attending college.

When I didn't have enough money even to go to community college, and my family couldn't help me pay for it, I went to Job Corps and used their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program because once you completed a trade, they helped you pay for college.

It was during my CNA training that I figured out I loved the medical field and that I was good at it. From then on, my future in journalism was forgotten. I worked as a CNA for seven years until I got pregnant with my daughter. When she was 4 months old, I decided to resume taking college classes and began working on my associate’s degree in nursing while working as a pediatric medical office assistant and at Children's Mercy as a patient care tech until I graduated with my associate’s degree to become a Registered Nurse (RN) from Metropolitan Community College. During that time, I also adopted my son at 2 months old. Both of my babies were 3 when I walked across that stage.

As an RN, I went to work in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) straight out of school; it was always my favorite part of the hospital, even when I was a CNA. I'd beg to go sit on 1:1s just so I could ask the nurses questions and watch them manage a million pumps at a time. I spent a seven-year career in the ICU as a bedside nurse and learned everything I could from managing open heart patients to balloon pumps to CRRT and preparing patients for organ procurement.

Critical care has always been where my heart is.

Choosing advanced practice

During those seven years at the bedside, I completed an online program to earn my bachelor's degree and then a master’s degree in nursing administration. In my final two years as a bedside RN, I made the decision to go into advanced practice because I knew my place would always be in patient care.

I've been an APRN for eight years now. I've worked in acute care for almost all of it, starting with inpatient and outpatient neurology, progressing into critical care and hospitalist medicine. I've been trained how to do things that I would have never thought possible - intubations, central lines, arterial lines, basic bedside echo evaluations, how to use ultrasound equipment. I even learned how to do a bronchoscopy assisted tracheostomy placement and emergency cricothyrotomy last April at Mayo Clinic.

COVID pandemic

In 2020, I left my family on 10 hours’ notice to help with the COVID pandemic on the East coast. I started in Florida for six weeks before going to New York Presbyterian Irving for several weeks and then I spent several months as a critical care APP in the COVID ICU at Emory University Health Systems, traveling back and forth between Atlanta and Kansas City every other week, caring for those who were hit hardest by the original COVID strain.

Those were the hardest months of my life because I saw so many losses, but I also got to save a life of somebody who wasn't much older than I am; they were one of the few people I saw walk out of the ICU and that made it all worth it.

(Jerilyn and her fiancé of six years, Michael, married in November 2020, on one of her trips back after working in the COVID ICU at Emory. Together they have four teenagers.)

Joining Liberty Hospital

In December 2020, I was offered the opportunity to take on the first hospitalist nurse practitioner position working weekend overnights with the Liberty Hospitalist Group. I was delighted to find out that one of the doctors I worked with as a bedside ICU Nurse, Dr. Julie Marx, would be one of my colleagues!

It felt like I was coming home and to the place I was meant to be.

I officially started at Liberty Hospital on March 15, 2021, after nearly a year away from my family to help with the pandemic. I love being a part of the Liberty Hospital family and how we stand out from other facilities. I'll never stop being thankful for my wonderful colleagues, even on the nights with the craziest of full moons.

Reflecting on 23 years in healthcare

The path that I accidentally stumbled on 23 years ago is one I will never regret finding because that is where I found myself. There are dozens of patients I will always remember and too many memories to count - from dancing in dining rooms with dementia patients as a CNA to responding to my first code as an RN, to working with our fantastic ICU nurses here at Liberty on a particularly challenging night with a unique situation that resulted in a good outcome for the patient.

There aren't many people in the world who can say they've been able to help bring life into the world and witness as a new person draws their first breath as well as being present to hold the hand of those leaving this life and staying with them through their last breath. 'Growing up' through every step of nursing from CNA to RN to APRN has given me that rare and special glimpse at life and how very precious it is from every perspective possible.

The greatest thing about being an APRN for me is that every day can bring a memorable moment, every situation can bring an opportunity for growth, and every challenge an opportunity to learn and advance my practice, which means I can better serve my patients.

At the end of the day, that's what this is all about: how I can make the lives of my patients better - whether that means saving their lives or making sure they have dignity when they deserve it the most.

As challenging as it has been to be a healthcare provider in the past two and a half years, as burnt out as every one of us are, take time to remember that what you do is special. For all of the heartache and tears that come with the territory of nursing - whether you're a CNA, an RN or an APRN - it comes with a rare opportunity as well: the chance to inspire others to join us on our journey in sharing our compassion and commitment to human life. I promise if you've been practicing at any level, even for just a few months, you've already changed somebody's life for the better and inspired them to be something more. Keep forging ahead and continue following your path; you will never regret where it leads.