It’s not uncommon for people to do a mid-career switch, but the two careers usually overlap in some way. Such is not the case with Stacy Gruenloh ’07 BSN, who was an undergraduate dance major and a Radio City Rockette.
After professionally retiring her synchronized line high leg kicks, she moved to Los Angeles, taught Pilates and worked as message therapist, where many of her clients were pregnant or postpartum. Thinking about a career in health care and knowing there was a nursing shortage, she felt it would be nice to have another degree in something other than dance. “I did some prereqs at Santa Monica College, and I loved it,” Gruenloh says. “It felt so good to be back in school, though I was in my thirties. It was scary, but it felt good to be learning something different.”
After graduating from Mount Saint Mary’s, she interviewed at UCLA and has been a labor and delivery nurse there ever since. “The first year and a half as a new grad was so intense,” Gruenloh recalls. “I never felt like I could take a breath. There’s always something to learn and something to be nervous about, and I wasn’t confident in my ability to understand the big picture. A lot of that just takes time--and I always felt supported.
Early in her career, Gruenloh arrived at work to find Sarah Sheely, her former professor and current director of obstetrics at the Mount. Sheely, a midwife, had been assisting in a home birth that resulted in the mother, who was also a midwife, needing to be transferred to the hospital. Upon arrival, Sheely asked for Gruenloh.
Gruenloh admits that she felt a bit intimidated to be in the room with the patient, her professor, the mother-to-be’s doula, and an additional UCLA nurse managing the care. “It was overwhelming because there were all these amazing women who are so smart, who had so much experience—and then there was me,” she says. “As the nurse, it was very intimidating, but it was fun. There was so much experience in that room to learn from and to be a part of.”
Now, Gruenloh says that the coronavirus has changed everything. “At the beginning of the quarantine, we had a handful of our colleagues test positive and go out with COVID-19,” she says. “That was a really stressful time because we didn’t quite know if that was going to be the new norm. Those first three weeks were really intense, because we hadn’t been down this road before. There’s the constant emotional stress of being totally prepared for whatever walks in the door and having to constantly change the way things are done, which is never easy for people to do. We want our policies updated every five years, not every two days.”
For the last year or so, Gruenloh maintains her connection to the Mount by working as a clinical instructor for the accelerated BSN program. “Those students are so driven,” she says, which reminds her of her classmates. “The program is intense and fast, and they are just in it, and there’s no getting out of it until the day they graduate. It is all encompassing. What is so lovely about teaching this program is that I have students who really want to succeed and learn and have experiences.
“I don’t like to add extra things to my plate because I’m a mom and I want to spend time with my kids, but to be able to teach the clinicals always reinforces my passion for what I do. It reemphasizes why I do my job. At some point, if I don’t feel that way, then I’d have to think about what I’m doing. It’s hard work and so in that respect sometimes I wish I could sit at a computer all day and check emails and do meetings, but it’s always worth it. Always.”