July 23, 2019

A nursing career inspired by a sitcom and an ER visit

Clarissa Smith, one of Kaiser Permanente’s 2019 Extraordinary Nurse Award recipients, talks about her calling and connection to health care.

Clarissa Smith, RN

As a young child, Clarissa Smith found herself fascinated with nurses after seeing an African American nurse on the television series “Julia,” starring Diahann Carroll. “Julia looked like me, so I identified with her,” Smith said.

Her interest in becoming a nurse intensified a couple of years later when, at age 8, Smith visited her neighbor’s workplace: the emergency room.

“My neighbor was a nurse. I was fascinated by the fast pace. I thought it was just like TV,” said Smith, who is now a registered nurse and serves as health services manager at the Southwood Comprehensive Medical Center in Kaiser Permanente’s Georgia Region. “We were only there a couple of hours, looking in rooms and talking to patients, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I came home and told my mom that I really wanted to be a nurse.”

How does your work contribute to Kaiser Permanente’s efforts to transform health and health care?

As a health services manager, I am involved in helping deliver several of Kaiser Permanente’s health care innovations including video visits and telephone appointments, as well as working with lab and health care devices that allow us to monitor patient’s health while they are at home. We are in an age of innovation and change. I see my job as learning, promoting, coaching, and teaching all of these changes and improvements to our members and staff.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I am the first of my 11 siblings to earn a bachelor’s degree and move out of Michigan.  

What do you enjoy most about being a nurse?

I always wanted to work in health care. Nursing gives me a chance to be hands-on and be a patient advocate.

Describe one of your most memorable moments as a nurse. 

When I worked in gastroenterology, I took care of a patient who had colon cancer and no family. I was his nurse for 4 days. While I charted, I sat in his room and talked with him about how he was going to take care of himself at home. Six months later, he returned with roses and a card to thank me. He said he would not have fought to live if I hadn’t talked to him every day. He made me feel that my choice to be a nurse was one of the best decisions I made in my life. This happened 21 years ago. So, whenever I feel like I should be doing something else, I remember him.