Sailor, police officer, mechanic, nurse — this list may sound like the beginning of a childhood nursery rhyme. Instead, it is a list of the many hats Sharp employee Jerry Smith, RN, has worn.
Smith, a clinical nurse with the senior intensive outpatient program at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, is just one of the many exceptional Sharp team members over age 65. However, if you ask him, his age is the least interesting thing about him. His joy for life and desire to give back is what makes the biggest difference.
“Life is a buffet,” Smith says. “Take a little of everything. If it feels good, give it a try. If you like it, do some more.”
Smith has certainly tasted his fair share of accomplishment. A condensed list of all he has achieved includes working in the engine room of the first U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, serving as a police officer, maintaining helicopter hydraulics systems during the Vietnam War, and working as a hairstylist.
Smith became a registered nurse at the age of 55 and now works with older patients in Sharp’s mental health hospital. He also runs cross-country in the high desert, is a long-distance cyclist, builds bicycles, and loves to garden and cook. He and his wife, Cheryl, a competition dressage participant, profess their love for a life in which they “play hard, work hard and have a great time doing it all.”
Obviously, Smith is not your normal senior. At an age when many older adults are retiring, Smith is thriving in his latest career.
Smith’s path to becoming a clinical nurse was winding. He was a hairstylist in Hawaii years ago and was often called upon to visit ill clients in the hospital or at home to care for their hair. It was during these visits that he realized his calling may lie in providing a different kind of care.
“The laying on of hands in a time of suffering is personal for me,” says Smith. “I feel like I have a profound debt to the world, which has been so generous to me, and I have to give back as much and as often as I am able.”
Smith began his medical career as a nursing assistant and worked as an electrocardiogram (EKG) technician in hospice care, telemetry — monitoring patients’ vital signs with an EKG or other life sign-measuring device — and in the ICU, a time he remembers being an excellent opportunity to grow clinically, intellectually and spiritually.
He was then drawn to work with older adults receiving mental health care. He felt his own age allowed him to better understand some of his patients’ concerns.
“I felt there was a need and knew I could fill it,” he says. “Older people are often misunderstood, but I know that getting older is like climbing a mountain — the higher up you go, the better your perspective.”
Smith says that Sharp is a good fit for him because he is able to grow and expand his interests. He believes the essence of what Sharp does is the essence of how he’s lived his whole life — “always trying to do the right thing and doing it better than anyone else.”
“We are fortunate that we are one of the largest employers in San Diego,” says Janet Villalobos, director of human resources with Sharp HealthCare. “This allows our employees to work in a position long-term or decide to seek other opportunities within Sharp HealthCare. We have many employees like Jerry who start in one area and transfer into a whole new area based on their interests.”
What’s next for Smith? If you ask him, he’s certain about one thing — he’s not about to retire.
“I cannot ever imagine retiring,” he says. “I might do something different, but retire? No. The primary thing we all need is purpose and mine is to continue contributing to the world, reminding others of the importance of play and enjoying each and every moment of it all.”
For the news media: To talk with Janet Villalobos about older adults in the workplace for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.