As the daughter of two English teachers, Nursing wasn’t a profession that Mary Pennington had even considered early on in her life. It wasn’t until college that she contemplated a career path in health care. Starting off at Boston College (BC) as a history major, Pennington was drawn to peers who were Nursing majors.
“There was just something respectable about the women and men who were pursuing a degree in Nursing. I was drawn to something in all of them,” said Pennington, who ultimately left her bachelor’s degree in history behind and decided to apply to BC’s School of Nursing.
“It was one of the more competitive of the college’s schools, and I was thrilled to be accepted,” said Pennington, who clearly sought a major that suited her and her strengths.
While still carrying a course load in college, she rented a two-family home in Jamaica Plain along with a number of her classmates and opened up the lower level to a number of homeless persons. “That was a unique time in my life—one I will always treasure,” said Pennington.
Now, nearly twenty years into her career, serving as a staff nurse and now as BWH’s Neurosciences Educator, that compassion remains. Her unique blend of leadership, compassion and expert knowledge in varied areas of clinical nursing have led Pennington to be honored as this year’s Mary S. Fay Essence of Nursing Award winner.
Clearly, a career in Nursing was a perfect fit for Pennington after all.
After receiving her degree, Pennington became an agency nurse and rotated through many of Boston hospitals’ intensive care units, which gave her a solid background in ICU nursing. After being offered a permanent job while rotating through BWH’s Burn-Trauma unit, she became a staff nurse on 7D and remained there for 14 years. She then moved on to BWH’s Neuro ICU, also as a staff nurse.
“The moves I’ve made have suited my career well. They have provided me new challenges and an opportunity to master new skill sets and gain clinical knowledge.”
As a result of encouragement from nurse manager Maureen McGrath, Pennington took a position as Neurosciences educator at BWH. Although apprehensive at first, Pennington was pleased with the move and began to meet the new challenges that came along with this more visible position. However, throughout her four years as educator, Pennington never gave up her clinical role at BWH. She still works several shifts a month as a staff nurse to keep up-to-date on practice standards and hospital procedures, as well as keeping connected to her colleagues and patients.
“I enjoy being a resource for my colleagues. I feel it is important to still practice clinical nursing at some level in order to reman current with clinical issues and changes,” said Pennington, who juggles one-to-one teaching with classroom education and in-services in any given week. Among many other projects and initiatives, Pennington is working with 9D nurse-in-charge Shaun Golden to plan this year’s Neurosciences Conference in mid-June.
Pennington was formally recognized as the Essence of Nursing Award winner at the May 7 Nurse Recognition Dinner, held at the Westin Hotel in Waltham. Surrounded by her many colleagues, friends and family, Pennington accepted the award from Senior Vice President of Patient Care Services Nancy Kruger.
Pennington responded with heartfelt acceptance remarks. “My choice to become a nurse is one I have never regretted. In a world where evil, pain and suffering exists, we are in a position to do so much good. Caring for the sick, relieving suffering and changing lives. If there is a greater purpose in life than this, I don’t know what it is.”
Throughout her tenure at BWH, Pennington has adapted to different paces, new managers and a more challenging skill set with each progressive move. With her expertise and leadership qualities, those who come into contact with Pennington can’t help but get the sense that she is constantly driven to accept new challenges.
“Nursing suits me. I feel good about being a nurse,” she said.