When Marsha Sensat was a floor nurse, she, like a lot of other nurses, worked 12-hour shifts. She witnessed the beginnings and endings of lives and helped with the trying moments between.
She relished the chance to sit at patients’ bedsides.
“I gave everything I had in those 12 hours,” she said.
For 12 years she worked at a hospital in her native Louisiana, mostly in the labor and delivery wing and adult intensive care unit. She enjoyed both areas so much that she would take extra shifts if her workweek kept her in one realm all week.
She worked seven days on, seven days off, so if she spent an entire week in labor and delivery she would come in on her days off to work in the ICU. Depending on your perspective, you might call Sensat a workaholic. Or, a dedicated employee.
Sensat’s floor nursing days are behind her now. She is the chief nursing officer at St. John’s Medical Center, and almost any conversation with her — from the Jackson community to her family — winds its way back to nursing.
“I love what I do,” Sensat said. “I believe it is because I love the people, especially here.”
The top nursing post at St. John’s, which she took in April, is the culmination of a career spent climbing the ladder through nursing departments at hospitals across the United States. To hear her tell it, that path started long before she studied at Louisiana State University and then took her first post as a floor nurse.
Her mother was a nurturer, she said, and that caregiving spirit imbues her entire family. One of her sisters is also a nurse, as is her sister-in-law, her niece and her daughter, Jenee. Sensat attributes that to her mother’s penchant for caring for her and her four siblings, as well as other members of her large family.
“The way she cared for her family and her parents rolled down to my sister and I,” she said. “It was very natural for us to go into nursing.”
Following her 12-year stint in Louisiana, Sensat set out west to continue her climb up the ranks toward hospital administration. In Houston she found herself as the charge nurse at a large metropolitan hospital.
Charge nurses still work the floor in their unit, but they also take on administrative duties. They are akin to a shift supervisor, setting schedules for the other nurses and overseeing admissions and discharges, according to American Nurse Today, the journal of the American Nursing Society.
As a charge nurse in a large hospital, Sensat, said, she gained valuable experience, both in the specialties that an urban hospital can offer because of its higher patient volumes and in management. Having been in Jackson for the better part of a year, she sees parallels between larger metro facilities and her current post.
St. John’s “is very close to that,” she said. “Not all community hospitals are as close to the vast opportunities for patients.”
Though Sensat enjoyed her five years in Houston, she had two goals she wanted to achieve: to continue her ascent into administration and to change her scenery to something a bit more picturesque.
“Our children were in college, and we had the opportunity to move,” she said. “We had always vacationed in the mountains and loved it.”
A pair of postings in Colorado allowed Sensat to leave the floor. First she was the director of nursing (one step below the top nursing post) in Aspen, then she moved south to Pikes Peak Regional Hospital to take the reins as chief nursing officer. From southern Colorado she took the leap to her position at St. John’s.
Though she doesn’t have the same duties as she used to, Sensat still feels a compulsion to help others, only now she pours her energy into the nursing staff, rather than the patients.
“From the lowest level to the highest level I can affect, I want to give people career opportunities,” she said. “I really want our staff to love what they do and have opportunities within these walls.”
Nurses in rural hospitals like St. John’s can have a hard time, especially in their early career, developing necessary experience. With a smaller patient population, the variety and breadth of afflictions is lower, something Teton Valley Hospital Chief Nursing Officer Angela Booker spoke about in a 2014 University of Utah podcast.
“For a nurse coming to work in our facility that doesn’t have emergency department experience,” Booker said, “they might see [only] one or two traumas in their entire orientation period that might last 90 days.”
Booker’s hospital is over Teton Pass in Driggs, Idaho, with an even smaller population than Jackson, but Sensat said the same limitations apply to new nurses at St. John’s. She wants to create avenues for them to develop leadership skills so they don’t feel the need to move to a larger town like Salt Lake City or Bozeman, Montana, to advance.
For instance, she and Human Resources Director Thom Kinney are instating a yearlong leadership program for hospital staff that will begin in January. That course will span departments, and its goal is to build skills from within.
“We want to give them all the tools they need to be successful as a leader,” she said.
True to form, Sensat is most excited about her job at St. John’s, but she is also looking forward to the winter, her first in the Tetons. She and her husband, Joel Hoffman, are “big skiers” and anticipate spending lots of time at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Sensat has also jumped into Womentum, a mentoring organization for women in Jackson.
When she talks about her new community, from Teton Springs in Victor, Idaho, where she lives, to the group of people she has surrounded herself with in Jackson, she mentions her sense of belonging. But, also true to form, she always returns to St. John’s.
“The community has been very welcoming and respectful. They love their hospital, and that makes me love it more,” she said. “I feel very valued by that.”