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Journey to be a family nurse practitioner

Susan Leddy
Susan Leddy did not always plan to become a nurse practitioner but now admits she has found her calling.

It took Susan Leddy a few attempts to figure out what she wanted to do for a career. However, once she figured it out, she’s found a career she loves.

After working as a hospital nurse in several cities, Leddy now works as a certified nurse practitioner for the Avera Medical Group in Milbank and also has hours in Wilmot.

“I love it. I love it. I love it,” said Leddy, who earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1987 and added a master’s degree and became a nurse practitioner in 1993.

However, Leddy didn’t always think of being in the nursing profession.

“When you’re young, I don’t know if you ever really know you are on the right path,” said Leddy, noting she attended St. Cloud State and Augustana before getting married and transferring to State. “Mark (husband) had to listen to me every night after classes or clinicals. I remember coming home after my OB rotation and saying ‘ooh, I don’t like this.’ Then I went into my community health rotation and said ‘ooh, I don’t like this either.’ Then it was adult surgical and I didn’t like that one either. I was like ‘oh my gosh, what am I going to do?’ Mark said you’re going to stick it out, graduate and then we’ll make a plan.

“I was one of those people who graduated and wasn’t really sure I wanted to be a nurse. It was all kind of OK,” she continued. “Nothing really jumped out and made me passionate about a particular thing as I saw in many of my classmates.”

That changed when she started working at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. She discovered she liked the large hospital atmosphere and it being a teaching and research hospital.

The couple then moved to Hartford, Connecticut, and she landed a position at the University of Connecticut Hospital, another large teaching institution.

However, Mark Leddy was then offered a position at Valley Queen Cheese Factory in Milbank, their hometown.

“We get to Milbank and there’s a 25-bed hospital. The resident was not sleeping down the hall and the doctor was 20 minutes away,” she recalled. “It was just a lot different. You were the OB nurse, you were the critical care nurse, you were the ER nurse. I was never comfortable trying to be the jack of all trades.

“I wasn’t even going to work when we came back but they were so short nurses, so I said I would give it a try,” Leddy continued. “Because of that time, I have great respect for those nurses in the small-town hospitals all over rural America. They truly are the first line of providers in acute care.”

It was during her time as a nurse in Milbank that she was prompted to think about doing more with her career in health care.

“One night when we were waiting for a baby to be born, a physician—I give her full credit—said maybe you should consider going back to school. Of course, she wanted me to go to med school,” Leddy continued. “I said I can’t go to med school but the nurse practitioner program was at South Dakota State. I came down and visited with the College of Nursing about what the program was going to be like and what I could do after completing it. I also went over and visited with the College of Pharmacy because I wondered about getting a pharmacy degree.”

Leddy ultimately chose advanced practice nursing and working at Avera.

“It’s gone really well. I’m still the jack of all trades but I only work in outpatient. I’ve developed a sense of calm,” she said. “Some days it’s about trying to find the calm in the chaos but I have fabulous coworkers. I’m part of a great medical team. We have four family practice physicians, a general surgeon and three nurse practitioners and two physician assistants. It’s a complete 180 from when I started.

“It’s not that much different. You take one patient at a time and treat them with the kindness and respect you’d like to be treated with and try to take care of whatever they might need,” Leddy continued. “Whether it’s a sore throat or someone needs help placing their mother in a nursing home or get their husband into treatment for cancer, you do your best. It helps that I know them all because I was born and raised in Milbank.”

When being shadowed by high school students or working with college nursing students, Leddy shares her life experiences as well as her health-care knowledge.

“I tell students that you don’t have to know what you want to do. You have to get out there and try, get your feet wet, get your hands dirty and start doing it and it’ll come to you. If it doesn’t, you’ll find the other fork in the road and take that one,” she said. “You don’t have to know. Your transcript can have three schools on it and a lot of meaningless credits but you’ll figure it out, if you have the patience to take the time.

“Maybe I just settled into my role as a nurse better after I had more education. I just wasn’t comfortable where I was. I am now and love it.”

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