Mercy Health Colleague Spotlight

In celebration of Black History Month, Mercy Health is spotlighting some of our many colleagues who are contributing to the health and safety of our patients and the communities of West Michigan.

Sam Cunningham, RN, BSN

Quality Assurance Coordinator

Mercy Health Muskegon

As an RN, Sam Cunningham has worked jobs [some as part-time and some full-time] in Med Surg, ER, Workplace Health, Surgical Care, Endoscopy, Post-Op and Pre-Op, and on the IV Access Team. He buffered his experience to learn as much as possible, and even took some travel nurse jobs during 2016-17, just to see what it was like to serve in other places. He has worked in just about every hospital department but the intensive care unit (ICU).

Question: How long have you been working at Mercy Health? What is your area of expertise?

Answer: I’ve been at Mercy Health since March 2006…almost 15 years. I think of working at Mercy Health as “home.” I began working as an RN in 2012. At the moment, my area of expertise is Quality Assurance. I joined Quality in January 2020. I have expertise in fall prevention, restraint abstraction and auditing, and I am training another person to do that job now. I’ll be moving on to another position in Quality that monitors patients who have cardiac catheterizations. I have served in other positions at Mercy Health too.

Q: Positively or negatively, has your race impacted your experience as a clinical colleague?

A: There have been positive and negative reactions with patients. Working in the ER, there were patients who instantly didn’t want you as their nurse — or there are patients who love you to death. The negative motivates me to ‘kill with kindness.’ My goal is to keep my smile all the time, and I give the same care regardless.

As for colleagues, there have been positives and negatives too. I would say it’s been mostly positive. A colleague may say something inappropriate, but I chalk it up to the fact that they don’t know me. Over time, they learn what they can say and can’t say around me.

Q: Will you share where you received your education and training?

A: I was an ER technician for about six years. During that time, I was also going to school for nursing and at the same time I was in the Air Force Reserves as a med tech, which is the equivalent of an LPN. I got my Associates Degree in Nursing at Muskegon Community College and my bachelor’s degree at Grand Canyon University. Before COVID, I was in the middle getting my master’s degree as Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. I put that on hold due to work and COVID stressors.

Q: How has it been different working during the pandemic?

A: COVID has changed what I am doing day to day.Each day can be different.It keeps you on your toes. I’ve been redeployed to do whatever is needed — fit testing, vaccination administration to support the hospital. For most of this past year, I haven’t been doing my regular job in Quality.

In the beginning, no one really knew much about COVID symptoms. It seemed like guidelines changed every day. I came to work each day, so I was afraid that I could possibly get the virus. Once I got beyond that fear, then I wondered if I would be furloughed. [Sam wasn’t.]

Q: What or who has been an inspiration to you during your career journey? 

A: First and foremost, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has been a big part of where I am in my career. My wife and immediate family have also inspired me. The other inspiration is the people in my past who said I wouldn’t amount to anything. Originally, I didn’t want to be a nurse. I wanted to be a pharmacist or an electrical engineer. Nursing came about when I joined the military. I liked patient care.

Q: Would you encourage others to consider a career in health care? Where should you start?

A: I would. I have encouraged one of my nephews, who will become a nurse by August. To me, nursingis the job that allows you to do patient care and so many other avenues. You can go into IT, management, or Quality. There are so many opportunities. I wish someone would have come to me sooner about nursing. I would have pursued nursing right out of high school.

By 11th or 12th grade, you should start taking more science classes. When I was in high school, there was no dual enrollment in both high school and college or university courses. I would encourage taking the community college route. You can save money and still get what you need. It’s not where you go, it’s what you get out of it.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers about being Black in America?

A: When it comes to prejudice, we as a nation can’t seem get out of our own way. We can’t get on the same page regarding equality. For me, I think that race can play a part in hiring.

There can be a lot of fear of hiring a person of a different race. The people hiring often use the information they get in the media or from what someone told them rather than getting to know the person or screening based on qualifications.

I think that last determining factor can be race. The person hiring may wonder:

  • Will this Black person be someone we can work with?
  • Will he/she be angry?
  • Will he/she be open to criticism or teaching

Some people judge us automatically by our appearance. Getting to know the person is key. I have no doubt that what people thought of me when they first met me is different from what they think now that they know me.

They say trust is earned, but for me, I trust you until you give me a reason not to.

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