This article can be found in the Spring 2019 edition of the Alumni Magazine.
April 4, 2019
Jenny (Hill) Esslinger (ASN ’02) starts each 12-hour workday with no idea what might happen next. She couldn’t love it more.
Esslinger is a Mobile Intensive Care Unit (MICU) nurse and flight nurse with Parkview Health. She spends some of her workdays aboard the MICU Samaritan Ground Transport truck, some time aboard the Samaritan 1 helicopter and some time studying while waiting for the unpredictable next emergency call.
During a tour of the hangar where Samaritan 1 is stored during winter weather, Esslinger explained the protocol of the unit and the ins and outs of her work. She might not describe her job this way, but the label fits: She’s a lifesaver.
“We have all kinds of lifesaving tools, including a wide variety of medications and equipment we can use to stabilize a patient,” Esslinger said. “It’s amazing, in a short amount of time, the difference we can make.”
Esslinger learned the value of making a difference with medical care at an early age. A native of Hamilton, Indiana, nursing is in her DNA. “My mom Jody Hill was a nurse, I had several family members who were nurses, and one aunt, JoAnn Beecher, was a flight nurse,” she said. “My mom would always share her nursing stories with me, and she would take me with her when she taught CPR and first aid. It came naturally.”
After working about eight years in the Surgical Trauma ICU at Parkview, Esslinger had an opportunity to join the new MICU in 2010, which eventually led her aboard Samaritan 1. Her general pattern of work is two weeks with Samaritan Mobile ICU units and a week with Samaritan 1. The work is similar but not identical. Samaritan Mobile ICU includes a nurse, a paramedic and an EMT driver. Samaritan 1 carries a pilot, a nurse and a paramedic.
Sometimes the call is to transport a patient from one hospital to another. Sometimes the call is more urgent, coming from an accident site. There’s no way to anticipate the next assignment. “You have to be ready to switch it on. It’s amazing how you can go from one extreme to the other,” Esslinger said.
“There have been days when I’ve had five flights in a 12-hour shift, or a long road trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and that’s rough. The reality is, it’s hard work. It’s very hard work but I love it.”
Paramedic Mel Tucker and pilot Pat Schultz are often teamed with Esslinger on her crew. It helps to know your team well to react better in those high-pressure situations, they agreed. “She’s a very passionate nurse,” Tucker said. “Very skilled, and fun to hang around with. She’s got it all.”
Esslinger says the job is as rewarding as it is stressful, and it takes a certain type of personality to handle the many different aspects of the position. “I am blessed to be surrounded by amazing co-workers and that helps one get through the good and bad days,” she said.
“I love being able to help people and I enjoy being able to reduce the anxiety the family and patient are having. I am able to take them from a 10 to a 2 in anxiety by explaining things. It’s amazing the relationships you form with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet.”
After earning an ASN from USF, Esslinger earned a BSN from WGU Indiana. She credits USF as being a vital launching pad for her career, and she has not ruled out returning for further study. “The way I learn is very hands-on, and Saint Francis got me through it well,” Esslinger said. “The one-on-one attention helped me and shaped me into the nurse I wanted to be.”
Esslinger and her husband Nathan have three children: Ethan, 14, Gabe, 10, and Kinsley, 6. The family had to adjust to the unpredictable nature of her career. A late-in-the-shift call can result in Esslinger staying as long as 18 hours on the job.
“My daughter probably asks the most questions—‘Mom, what did you do today?’—and I can say ‘I helped save somebody’s life today,’ and then you go home and it’s normal, just another day,” Esslinger said. “That’s one thing with nursing, you truly get to make a difference. That’s what I enjoy with it and it’s why I keep going with it. You’re the calm in somebody’s storm.”