Like all nurses, Lynn Elliott, MS, RN, started her career wanting to make a difference in the lives of others. Now, after 40 years of nursing and impacting countless lives, she has been honored by the state of Florida for her contributions to public health, named one of the Sunshine state’s public health heroes.
But when she started out, she was only driven by a desire to help. And it was this drive which brought Elliott to new challenges and helped her overcome them.
“I just do my public health work and have always felt very good about it,” said Elliott. These are humble words from someone who helped change the way maternal and infant care is handled in her state. But as she looked back on her career, it was obvious that her impact on the lives of others was far from humble.
Helping the helpless
Elliott started her career working in pediatrics and pediatric intensive care units in several Florida hospitals. One day, she saw a nurse wearing a blue and white uniform who came to look at a patient’s chart. Curious, Elliott asked her what her job was. “She told me she was going to follow the child,” said Elliott, “follow the child and make sure that once it had gone home that the mom was feeding it and that the child was gaining weight.”
It was at that moment that Elliott knew then that she wanted to make a change in her career.
“It was 1985, and I went back to get my bachelor’s degree so I could go into public health.” Soon after obtaining her degree, she headed to Fort Meyers where she took on the position of a cocaine-baby nurse supervisor. She and her team would go out and visit cocaine-addicted babies and mothers to personally ensure health progress.
Elliott’s public health efforts also involved spearheading a project to create a halfway house for the families she visited. Mothers could live there with their children for up to a year and receive aid as they went through the recovery process.
Spurred by the success of her initial efforts, Elliott headed to northern Florida where she continued serving her patients in yet a different way. “I went a step further with my education and got my masters and started to work in the department of health. I focused on the policies surrounding maternal and child health.”
It was in this new role that Elliott helped enact a statewide initiative by playing a leading role in the development of the Healthy Start Medicaid Waiver in Florida. Through this waiver, Elliott contributed to a significant decrease in the infant mortality rate throughout the state. This initiative helped millions of women, improving maternal health outcomes in the 23 years since it began.
‘A real blessing’
In 2001, Florida State University reached out to Elliott to help develop, and subsequently teach, a course on public health policy. “It was exciting and rewarding to get this opportunity,” said Elliott. “Being able to teach future nurses is a real blessing.”
Elliott continued to teach her course until she retired from the state in 2007. But it was just a short time after that she would return to teaching.
“I started teaching an online community health nursing course for Chamberlain in 2008,” she said. “And I love it.” Six years later, Elliott continues to teach this online course, to two different sections of students each semester.
“I find that the interactions online with the students are excellent, as long you’re very active,” she said. “I visit the course online quite a lot. I read all the posts from students and all of their questions. I was a returning student myself. I came back as an adult. So I understand the students and what they are trying to do.”
When asked what advice she’d share with the next generation of nurses, Elliott said nursing is about caring. “Nursing is a wonderful profession because there is so much to do within nursing. There’s a variety of roles you can play within nursing, you just have to have the courage to try them.”