‘To Make a Difference on a Systems Level’

‘To Make a Difference on a Systems Level’

In Martinsburg, a small city in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, it can feel as though you’re neither here nor there, says Melissa Fannon-Wisner, a SiTEL educator with Medstar with part-time posts as a family nurse practitioner, as a lecturer at Wilson College, and whatever other nursing jobs happen to randomly fall out of the sky. And they do.

Head one way down the highway and it’s 15 minutes to Maryland. Head another and it’s 25 minutes to Virginia, she says, which is great but a little frustrating too. “Unlike Baltimore or DC, there isn’t a specialist on every street corner,” she explains. “I can count on one hand the number of GI or psych specialists.” And since a high percentage of patients in the surrounding area receive state aid or Medicaid, rules dictate that they cannot simply be referred across those state lines. “It is very much an underserved area. I’ve had patients who live up the mountain and barely have cell service.” For these folks, a referral to more easily available specialists in Morgantown, WV means a two-and-half-hour drive. Or the local wait list can be several months long. “You learn to be very resourceful.”

That could change in the future for Martinsburg, which sits in one of the two fastest-growing counties in West Virginia. Fannon-Wisner credits an influx of transplants like herself for that. (She’s originally from Frederick, MD.) The newcomers have largely been priced out of the housing markets in neighboring states. But for now, Fannon-Wisner is working with a team of mostly nurses to create curriculum for MedStar’s SiTEL (Simulation Training and Education Lab) to expand the knowledge and skills of providers locally and at affiliated MedStar health centers across in Maryland and DC in everything from surgical to ICU to trauma, the whole range. That includes sports medicine. (MedStar has relationships with a number of franchises including hockey, basketball, and football teams, three endeavors Fannon-Wisner confesses to knowing and previously caring little about. Though she isn’t standing on the sidelines—”My job is to work with and assist with the training that physicians and team trainers use to keep the athletes safe”—she does understand that it’s kind of a neat gig nonetheless.

She loves her job(s). The MedStar position is “not that different from academia,” she says. “I’m not in front of a class, I’m not working the mannikins, I’m more behind the scenes.” Still, “being able to make a difference on a systems level is cool and unique … it’s truly systems-based implementation.”

Fannon-Wisner has been with MedStar about a year. A former colleague from Johns Hopkins program reached out: “ ‘Are you looking for a job?’ I’m always looking for a job.”

“And I’m keeping my hand in clinically on the side as an FNP,” largely to maintain the hours required to keep her credentialing. “It’s not that I don’t like working directly with patients,” Fannon-Wisner is quick to add. “I can keep that direct care line open without burning myself out as a provider.”

She calls her Johns Hopkins education a blessing and a curse, especially in West Virginia, where people tend to be extremely biased toward the state university health system. And she is wary of being branded by her education alone. The blessing part is undeniable, though. “It’s interesting to see how much weight the name still carries.”

Fannon-Wisner say the relationships that exist among alumni and even former and current colleagues at Johns Hopkins expand far beyond the Baltimore area. “You just never know when Hopkins will come into your life.” — Steve St. Angelo

Click here to learn more about the programs at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing.

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