Kelly Mahay: Helping nurses start their acute care careers

December 9, 2021 Providence News Team

Kelly Mahay, BSN, RN, CMSRN, WCC, remembers when she wanted to become a nurse.

Fresh out of college and armed with a health sciences degree with a focus on rural public health, Mahay traveled to Honduras to do community health assessments in a small, remote village with no more than 100 residents.

She signed up to work alongside a nurse who was helping the village set up its own community health clinic in a tiny little schoolhouse powered by a generator.

“She was probably one of the bravest women I’ve ever met,” Mahay said of the nurse’s work in a place that Mahay described as one of the most impoverished areas in the world.

While Mahay asked questions about clean water, food resources and nutrition, her nurse partner and leader empowered women in the village to become the enduring network of caregivers for the community. Her nurse mentor was effectively putting the women of the village through the equivalent of a two-year nursing school program, Mahay said.

Watching one nurse deliver hands-on care and teach a village to effectively care for itself, inspired Mahay to return to school to become a nurse.

She earned her undergraduate nursing degree in Anchorage and did clinical rounds on Providence Alaska Medical Center’s (PAMC) medical oncology unit, where she would later start her career as a staff nurse and then become a charge nurse. Five years into her 14-year career at Providence, she became a clinical nurse educator on the unit.

“I fell in love with Providence and fell in love with the people in this unit,” Mahay says.

“We have nurses on this unit that have been here 30 to 45 years. Now I get to help shape new nurses who come onboard here.”

Now she supports new nurses in medical oncology and med-surg through the hospital’s academy training programs and has a role in leading competency training for IV pumps and central line management for all nurses at the Anchorage hospital.

She’s passionate about helping nurses discover the best and safest way to do things and helps the hospital develop and implement new patient care practices and procedures.

“What I enjoy the most is those one-on-one education moments on the unit,” Mahay said of her role as a clinical educator.  Just as her mentor helped train a village of nurses in Honduras, Mahay’s there to witness new nurses’ journeys at PAMC.

Her path as a nurse now includes going back to school to become a family nurse practitioner.

“I want to further develop myself, but I want to be a better asset for my family,” she says.
“I want to take care of my community and family in a bigger way.”

For Mahay, who grew up in a rural town in West Virginia, that may eventually mean working in a more remote and rural setting, and focusing more on preventative and primary care for patients.

“I’ve been given every opportunity for growth and development,” Mahay says. “Providence gives you the path, you just have to seek them out and look for those opportunities. I want to be one of the nurses that get that 25-year plaque, too.”

“I’m not the same person I was when I started in this institution,” she says. “I’ve grown so much.”

Mahay is one of more than 1,200 nurses working at Providence Alaska Medical Center and one of more than 1,600 nurses who work in service of the Providence Alaska Region. The World Health Organization extended its 2020 “Year of the Nurse and Midwife” celebration into 2021. Providence couldn’t agree more.

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