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042219 Nurses Week Smith .jpg

Lennaya Smith, a nurse at the Lompoc Health — North H Center operated by the Lompoc Valley Medical Center, is being honored during Nurses Week.

The U.S. Air Force didn’t inspire Lennaya Smith to be a nurse, but in many ways it guided her. Originally from Riverside, Smith describes herself as an “Air Force brat,” who moved with her family from Hawaii to Texas depending on where her father was stationed.

Smith came to Lompoc when she was 18. She took nursing school prerequisite courses at Allan Hancock College and volunteered at the Vandenberg Air Force Base hospital. While there, Smith met the mother of a patient who was a nurse and a mentor.

Now, the cheery 42-year-old Smith is a nurse manager at Lompoc Health, a clinic on N. H Street. She has her own office with a bookshelf filled with reference guides and a desk piled with folders and stacks of paper — a typical backdrop for someone in her position.

It may have been a predetermined path for Smith, although it wasn’t a direct one. There was lots of moving around and crazy work hours.

At age 64, Delia Espino is nearing retirement age. With 43 years of experience as a nurse, Espino has seen a lot in life, both personally and professionally. Born in the Philippines, Espino hails from the province of Iloilo. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing and emigrated to the U.S. in 1982, settling in Lompoc with her husband, and finding work at the Lompoc Valley Medical Center.

“I always knew I was going to be in nursing,” Smith said.

The inspiring moment, Smith recalled, came when she was 12 years old after she was hospitalized at Lackland Air Force Base for hypocalcemia, a condition in which the calcium in the blood is below normal.

When it came time apply to nursing school, Smith was faced with the possibility of waiting years to get in. Smith made the move back to a place she once called home, Wichita Falls, Texas, where she attended Midwestern State University.

Smith knew she wanted to be a nurse, but more specifically knew she wanted to get into pediatrics.

In the early 2000s, she landed her first job on the pediatric/adult overflow floor at Marian Regional Medical Center, where she got a little experience with everything. After that, she worked in the medical-surgical unit. She then took a job as a pediatric nurse at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, where she rotated night and day shifts.

It was a “wonderful experience,” Smith said, but added that the hours and the commute were grueling. The experience, she said, has given her a lot of respect for nurses who manage night shifts.

Once more, Smith went back to Texas where she took a travel nurse assignment at a children’s hospital.

And once again, she made her way back to the pediatric unit at Marian, where she was a part of the pediatric unit practice council, whose members helped children staying at the hospital for extended periods of time have a better experience.

When Smith got her job at Lompoc Health, it was owned by Sansum. The company transitioned to a new owner in December 2018 when Lompoc Valley Medical Center bought the clinic where Smith works.

The transition was challenging for the clinic’s staff and uprooted their workflow, Smith said, but she received praise for making it seamless.

“She led the transition with a smile and confidence and led the calming of all the staff,” said Yvette Cope, who is Smith’s supervisor at the clinic. “She fit in on day one.”

In her role at Lompoc Health, Smith said she works on the “back end” of the nursing staff, acting as a resource for her team of nurses. In her position, she’s in charge of about two dozen nurses, who she knows are making sacrifices. She calls them her work family.

“We see each other more than we see our families sometimes,” Smith said. “It’s hard to say good night to them over the phone.”

As a leader and a resource, Smith said she strives to be the person that “fixes it all,” but it’s not easy.

Dee Dee Solano was born in Seattle, Washington and moved to Santa Maria when she was two years old. She was inspired to become a nurse after experiencing the interaction and care nurses gave to her grandfather. Now at age 38, Solano has worked for seven months at Mission Hope Cancer Center in Santa Maria where she assists patients with chemotherapy. One of the challenges, Solano said, is managing the fear and helplessness she sees in some patients with cancer, which she said takes an emotional toll.

Another tough part of her job, she said, is working with the emotional impact when a patient passes away.

Knowing the demands of the profession, Smith encourages other nurses to have a life outside of their jobs. Burnout is a real possibility, she said.

As for Smith, she finds relaxation with friends and family around a fire pit. Road trips help clear her head, too.

In the future, Smith hopes to earn her master’s degree. Meanwhile, she’s busy leading and making sure patients are happy.

“I just like to talk with the patient when they’re here in person,” Smith said. “I want that eye-to-eye and I want them to be able to feel like they’re being heard.”

In her elementary school years, Stephanie Vega tagged along with her mother on the weekends to her hospital administration job in Glendale. That was Vega’s first exposure to the medical field. Vega’s true inspiration for her nursing career came as a young teenager, she just didn’t quite know it at the time.

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