Young RN grows at Legacy medical center

She's one of 61 picked from 700 who applied for Versant residency program

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Kristina Kinnunen always envisioned working in the medical field, she just didn't know she'd get her start in a hospital housekeeping department.

But that's how the 24-year-old Battle Ground woman began her young nursing career at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center.

In November 2007, Kinnunen was hired as a housekeeper at the medical center. She had recently graduated from Hockinson High School and knew she wanted to work in health care, but she wasn't sure which profession she wanted to pursue.

Her mother had been hired as a hospital housekeeper a few months earlier and told Kinnunen the job was a good way to see different positions at the hospital and get her foot in the door.

For two years, Kinnunen worked in housekeeping. When she wasn't working, Kinnunen was finishing the associate's degree she began as a Running Start student at Clark College.

By the time she finished her degree, Kinnunen had decided she wanted to go to nursing school. First, though, she completed the courses to become a certified nurse assistant and applied for CNA positions in the hospital.

In July 2009, the hospital offered Kinnunen a position as an emergency department technician. There, she was responsible for checking patient vital signs, helping with patient flow, performing EKGs, providing wound care and setting splints.

"I got to see a lot down there," Kinnunen said.

That same summer, while heading home from her honeymoon, Kinnunen got a call from Clark College. She had been accepted into the nursing program. She began classes that fall.

Kinnunen worked 24 hours a week as an emergency technician while managing a full class load at Clark.

“It was a whirlwind,” she said.

But the busy schedule came with benefits. Nurses at the hospital knew Kinnunen was in nursing school, so they’d pull her into patient rooms from time to time and offer insight on cases.

In the winter of 2012, Kinnunen graduated from nursing school. She applied for a position in Legacy’s competitive registered nurse residency program, Versant, but wasn’t accepted.

While she waited for another chance to apply, Kinnunen continued to work as a technician in the emergency department. She returned to working full time and was assigned to the pediatric emergency department.

That, Kinnunen said, is when she finally realized how she wanted to use her nursing degree.

“I loved it,” she said. “I loved the team. I loved the kids.”

Earlier this year, Kinnunen applied to the Versant program again. This time, she was one of 61 residents selected among nearly 700 applicants.

She was hired in February as a registered nurse for Legacy Salmon Creek’s pediatric unit, and throughout the spring and summer, Kinnunen worked alongside nurses with years of experience. In addition, she attended classes and visited various units at Legacy’s other hospitals.

The result of the program is a group of advanced nurses in a short period of time, said Brian Willoughby, spokesman at Legacy Salmon Creek.

Since September, Kinnunen has been working on her own in the pediatric and postpartum units. There, she cares for some of the hospital’s smallest patients and calms the fears of new mothers.

She’s thought about eventually returning to the pediatric emergency department, but for now, she plans to continue working in the hospital’s pediatric unit. Either way, she has no intention of leaving the hospital where she got her start.

“I’m just happy right here, right now,” Kinnunen said.