When Kristy Schumacher was a high school student, school just wasn’t her strength or her thing. After graduation, she moved to the Black Hills of South Dakota and got a job working in dietary at Monument Health Hospital in Deadwood. “I used to overhear ambulance calls on the scanner, and it gave me such a rush of adrenaline,” says the native of eastern Nebraska, who also worked in housekeeping and at the front desk. “The hospital held an EMT class, and I decided to take the plunge.” Kristy rode the ambulance part-time for several years and acquired an admiration for the nurses she met in the ER.
Keeping her job as an EMT, Kristy became a 911 dispatcher—and soon joined the police department as a part-time reserve police officer. After 12 years as a dispatcher and eight as a reserve police officer, she set her sights on becoming a nurse. “I was 30 years old, and my husband and I were thinking about growing our family,” says Kristy, who has a 22-year-old stepson she raised since he was a toddler. “As far as my education, I felt there was more I wanted to do to help people.”
Starting as a Nurse
Kristy enrolled at the University of South Dakota for an Associate Degree in Nursing and graduated at the top of her class in 2012. “I don’t know what transpired between high school and college, but something clicked, and I suddenly had a great desire to be the best at everything I strived for.”
Kristy started her nursing career in the cardiac interventional unit at Monument Health in Rapid City before moving to the Emergency Room (ER). After a year, she and her husband’s dream became a reality: they became pregnant. To be closer to home, she transferred to Monument Health Hospital in Spearfish and worked as an ER nurse, later becoming a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) and coordinator of the SANE team. In 2014, Kristy gave birth to a daughter, Kamryn.
Time for a BSN
After Kristy’s daughter was born, earning a bachelor’s degree seemed right. Her manager in the emergency department had gotten her master’s at American Sentinel College of Nursing and Health Sciences, and Kristy liked what she learned about the school and the RN to BSN program. She started the program in 2014, juggling work and parenthood.
In 2016, during her final term at American Sentinel, Kristy’s 22-month-old daughter began experiencing symptoms of sporadic vomiting and loss of balance. A doctor visit led to an MRI, and tragically, she and her family were blindsided with the diagnosis of a brain tumor. “I remember calling Devon Putnam at American Sentinel to tell her what was happening,” Kristy recalls. “I was four months shy of finishing my degree, and I knew if I didn’t finish it then, I never would. But I needed some grace to hand in some things late, and have a little leniency.”
Between Kamryn’s chemotherapy and radiation treatments, hospital visits, and being life-flighted more than once, Kristy continued to pursue her degree—while never leaving her daughter’s side. “I’m so grateful to Devon for advocating for me and going before the university’s president on my behalf to help me finish my degree,” she says. Kristy made it to the finish line and earned the BSN in 2016. Her coworkers at Monument Health donated their paid time off to allow her to stay home with Kamryn for an entire year on leave. After a brave 11-month battle, Kristy’s beloved daughter passed away just shy of her third birthday.
Trying to Find Her Place Again
When Kristy returned to work in June 2017, she became the trauma services coordinator and continued taking occasional ER shifts. Although being around young patients at times was difficult, Kristy never contemplated leaving the profession. “I got lost in caring for my patients, and it was the only thing in my life at the time that made sense,” she says. “I was there for a purpose, and I had more to do.” In 2018, Kristy joined Black Hills Life Flight and remained in the ER at Monument Health Spearfish PRN. She moved to a full-time position in 2019, working in electrophysiology back at Monument Health Rapid City.
Since 2020, Kristy has worked as a nurse manager at Monument Health Sturgis Senior Care Center. She is still PRN in the ER at Spearfish, and celebrated her 25th anniversary with Monument Health in November 2022.
A Return to American Sentinel
In 2019, Kristy decided it was time to pursue a longtime goal of becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner. She had enjoyed her experience at American Sentinel and decided there was nowhere she’d rather go. Kristy completed the Master of Science in Nursing –Family Nurse Practitioner Specialization in July 2022. “I’m blessed to share this victory with my best friend, Laura,” she adds. “We met in 2010 while getting our associate degrees in nursing and we’ve been each other’s ride-or-dies ever since.” Kristy’s long-term goal is to put the Nurse Practitioner credential to work in an ER or urgent care setting. As she expected, the program at American Sentinel has been structured and focused. “I’m so glad I chose this school. I’ve learned a lot, and I feel prepared to put my education to use.”
Kristy’s daughter would have turned eight in July 2022, the same month Kristy finished her MSN degree. Through the pain, Kristy has found strength she never thought she had. “I felt my world ending when she was diagnosed,” she says. “I was certain I couldn’t go on after she passed away, but I believe there has to be a purpose for me here. Most nurses say that they got into this career path because they want to help people, and that has never felt truer than these last several years. Being a nurse heals me so I can help heal others.”