Growing up in rural Maine, Suzannah Hall Maynard’s primary care provider was the Arthur Jewell Community Health Center, a federally qualified health center in the tiny town of Brooks. Jewell was a beloved doctor who tended to its population, and after whom the “little frontier outpost of medicine” she remembered growing up was named. Her time at the Arthur Jewell stuck in Maynard’s mind when, years later, she arrived in Philadelphia and needed treatment for a broken foot.
“I didn’t know how you were supposed to do it,” Maynard said. “Here, with all of the doctors, do I just make an appointment with my orthopedist? Do I go to the urgent care? Do I go to the ER?”
“I realized how health care-literate I wasn’t growing up,” she said. “I get some of the realities for people that aren’t literate about health care, and I still find myself with questions.”
Maynard holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering, which she applied to performing data analysis for the Maine department of transportation, calculating route efficiencies for highway cleanup and transit (“I was doing a lot of mapmaking,” she said). As her career in data visualization progressed, Maynard began working on social programs, helping build a unified digital intake form for state benefits applicants. By then, it was 2012, and her work became ever more closely tied to the emergence of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
“My husband is a policy analyst, and there was much discussion about health care in our house,” Maynard said. “I got to thinking I would like to be more directly involved in health care.”
So she went back to school at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By 2014, she’d graduated with her BSN, and her career outlook had slightly shifted focus.
“My vision when I went in was that I would get my bachelor’s in nursing and work while I got my MSN, and maybe find a rural clinic and work there,” Maynard said. “I understand better that there is a lot of urban need, too.”
In Philadelphia, Maynard was able to follow the intersection of real-time policy and health data efforts. Nonprofits like Project HOME, which works to eliminate homelessness, and the Public Health Management Corporation, a 45-year-old group that specializes in outreach to marginalized Philadelphians, are leading the way, she said. So too is Dr. Jeffrey Brenner of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, recently given $15 million from UnitedHealthcare for his research on the impact of wraparound services for the most vulnerable (and most frequent) users of health services in Camden, New Jersey. Programs like these energize and motivate her professionally, and Maynard said she still hopes to land “somewhere that’s being innovative about getting the help to populations that don’t have good access to it.”
For now, she enjoys the hands-on nature of service in her position with MossRehab Hospital in Philadelphia, where she works day shift in the spinal cord injury unit. Maynard focuses on bedside care, and said she most enjoys being able to support her patients as they learn how to manage their day-to-day activities.
“They’re there so they can have intensive inpatient therapy,” Maynard said. “We make sure they’re up and dressed for their therapy, and that everyone has their medicine.”
“I like that I’m talking to people,” she said. “I connect with people. It’s not like a patient comes and goes. We get to know them for two to six weeks, and you get to talk to them about their injury, and how it fits into their life, and how their life should change.”
Those conversations can lead to deep, however brief, relationships with patients and their families. Maynard recollects juvenile victims of gun violence, young cancer patients, and other people whose lives have intersected her own. During a particularly difficult Mother’s Day, a surprise from a former patient provided welcome relief. The man had promised to cook his caretakers “a real Italian meal” –meatballs, pasta, chicken parmesan – which he packed up and drove two hours to the center in honor of Nurse’s Week. The food and the sentiment behind it had arrived exactly at the moment they were needed.
The emotional complexity of the job is matched only by its physical demands; in the spinal-cord injury wing “there are a lot of jobs that are not one-person jobs,” Maynard said.
“Getting a person who can only move from the neck up into a wheelchair is not a one-person job,” she said. “It’s really personal stuff. You’re helping people with things that they don’t want help with.”
For someone whose gifts are as hands-on – Maynard is a scratch baker and practiced knitter – as they are intellectual, nursing has provided her with a complement to the engineering worldview with which she grew up.
“It is a different way of thinking,” she said. “In engineering, you can define the answer more clearly; in nursing you have to be a lot more flexible.”
While she was in school, Maynard said she had not appreciated the variety of career options for nurses. She’s currently pursuing a master’s degree to become a nurse practitioner, and wants to follow her impulse to improve conditions for underserved populations.
“There’s a lot of need and there are a lot of people that I think are living kind of like I was at one time,” Maynard said. “Health care is not a world that is very easy to understand, and that has become even more true.”