A day in the life at Penn State Health on the West Shore

By: Carolyn Kimmel

Emma Anselmo’s day began like any other – she pulled on the uniform she had laid out the night before and hopped into her car by 5:15 a.m. to make it to the Penn State Health Life Lion Mechanicsburg station well before her 6 a.m. shift – never imagining this would be the day her fondest emergency call wish would come true.

Kristen Hays, left, talks to her team member, Danielle Evans. They are both wearing scrubs and face masks. Hays has long hair and a name badge hanging from her blouse.
Kristen Hays, left, checks in with her team member, Danielle Evans, during her shift.

"I will never forget that day. At 7:50 a.m., we got a call that there was a woman in labor at her home,” Anselmo, an emergency medical technician (EMT) on the job for just five months, recounted. “I’ve never moved quicker in my life.”

She and EMT partner Caira Whitney, also new to the world of emergency medical services (EMS), looked at each other briefly in shock, grinned and took a collective deep breath.

“The baby came out the moment before we walked in the door,” Whitney said. “I handed the OB kit to Emma, and she suctioned, clamped and cut the cord.”

The mystery and challenge of never knowing what a day might bring is an irresistible draw to those in the EMS field.

Coming full circle

For Anselmo, who four months earlier had answered a call for a child who did not survive, being able to help a baby take her first breath was a welcome balm.

“As wonderful as this call was, the other call was the exact opposite – the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “A co-worker told me, ‘You can’t save every life, but you will give everyone the best chance at life possible.’”

Amidst the heart-wrenching memories of that day, Anselmo was bolstered by the incredible support of her supervisors and colleagues, who covered her shift the next day and offered resources to process the stress of a critical call. “It speaks to the support of Penn State Health,” she said. “They care about us as human beings, not just employees.”

Whitney, 18, and Anselmo, 22, met in EMT class at Harrisburg Area Community College and, coincidentally, found each other hired and assigned as partners at the Mechanicsburg station. Their days start early, receiving reports from the night shift and checking that vehicles are stocked and road-ready before sharing breakfast sandwiches they enjoy making in the station’s kitchen.

“The most satisfying part of our job is the impact we can have on our patients and the community,” said Whitney, who drives 40 minutes, past other EMS stations closer to home, to work for Penn State Health Life Lion. “I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.”

“All the people I work with really push me to be not just a better EMT but a better person,” said Anselmo, who noted she is an improved listener, quicker to offer help and more motivated in her personal life since working at Penn State Health Life Lion.

Nursing at the bedside and beyond

With 11 years under her belt at Penn State Health Holy Spirit Medical Center, Kristin Hays walks toward the hospital with the same sense of adventure she’s always felt.

“You could be walking into anything on any given day,” said Hays, who began her new post as the nurse manager on 7 Main – the 45-bed medical/surgical floor – in June after seven years working on that floor. Her early years at the hospital were spent as an X-ray technician before she decided she wanted to advance her medical career and went to nursing school.

She devotes the first part of her morning to checking in with night staff to resolve any questions and to ensure they have a listening ear for any concerns they have.

“We want to do whatever we need to do to help our staff,” said Hays, who juggles schedules and relies heavily on her team of staff and traveling nurses to meet the staffing shortages that most hospitals are now facing. “It’s satisfying to be able to advocate for my staff and take their suggestions or concerns to manager meetings. It’s important to me to be their voice.”

The cohesive, patient-first attitude of teamwork makes Hays optimistic about the future. “Our leadership really cares and is very involved, wanting to do everything they can to help the staff,” she said.

Michelle Murdoch, right, a  laboratory manager at Penn State Health Holy Spirit Medical Center, looks at a paper she is holding. She has medium-length hair and is wearing a long-sleeved top and face mask. A woman stands on the left wearing a medical smock, flowered blouse, surgical gloves and a face mask. Test tubes and a microscope are on a counter to their left.
Michelle Murdoch, right, a  laboratory manager at Penn State Health Holy Spirit Medical Center, reviews test results with a colleague.

Following clues

The laboratory at Holy Spirit Medical Center may seem like a routine place where tests are run, well, routinely – but manager Michelle Murdoch cites the mysteries of her job as one its best attributes.

“We’re testing for all kinds of things, putting puzzle pieces together,” said Murdoch, who originally wanted to be a Spanish teacher but became intrigued by the workings of the lab after doing part-time clerical work there. That was more than 30 years ago.

“I’m a little bit of an introvert, but I like to help people so the lab is perfect,” she said “It’s very important we do our job correctly and in a timely manner because our results help physicians make accurate diagnoses, which means better patient care.”

The lab tests for anything from glucose and cholesterol levels to anemia, antibiotic-resistant infection, COVID-19, cardiac issues and complete blood counts that can reveal cancer, bacterial infections and tick-borne diseases.

Like her co-workers in many other departments, Murdoch says she doesn’t know what a day will hold when she arrives.

On this day, a bilirubin test was repeatedly returning skewed results, and it was Murdoch’s job to figure out why.

“I’m a problem solver, so I enjoy working at something until I get it,” she said. “This is a great field to be in for those who are analytical and want to help people but not be involved with direct patient care.”

Many people who are interested in entering the medical field may not think about working in the lab because it operates behind the scenes and without a lot of notoriety – unless a pandemic hits, that is, Murdoch said.

“The last two years have definitely been a challenge but also an incredibly tangible way to feel like you’re helping people,” she said. “Plus, you’ll have absolutely no trouble finding a job.”

Penn State Health is hiring for inpatient nurse positions, Life Lion EMTs and paramedics, and laboratory technicians and assistants.

Find out more here