Corinne LaValley learned to live life while assisting patients during their final moments.
“As a young person caring for people who were dying all of the time — it really made me realize how fragile life is,” she said.
The 36-year-old nurse believes happiness comes from not wasting a moment and spending an immense amount of time outdoors.
“I’ve climbed big mountains like Mount Rainier in Washington twice, and I went and climbed in the back country of Alaska in Denali National Park just a couple of years ago,” LaValley said. “I spent 11 days in the back country, and it was amazing because those were kind of big dreams for me.”
These days, she is busy juggling her time between being a nurse manager for Kaiser Permanente, as well as a military wife and new mom.
“I got married about two years ago and we now have a 3-month-old son,” she said. “My husband recently had to go do his military obligations for the Air Force Reserve, and it really made me have a new heightened respect for single moms.”
The Oklahoma native moved to Colorado Springs in 2001 to attend UCCS, where she graduated from Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences.
“I’ve planted roots and really enjoy everything the Springs and Colorado has to offer,” she said.
LaValley recently spoke with the Business Journal about her love of the outdoors, becoming a nurse and what it’s like to work at Kaiser Permanente.
What brought you to Colorado Springs?
The short answer is the mountains. Growing up in Oklahoma, at a young age, I got involved in the Venturing Scouting program, which is a branch of the Boy Scouts — now Scouts of America. It is high adventure activities like backpacking, rock climbing, camping and all that kind of stuff. While there were some opportunities for all that in Oklahoma, obviously, Colorado is like the mecca of those kinds of things. So I became very attracted to what Colorado has to offer. … I got introduced to a guy, who is now my husband, and was a cadet at the Air Force Academy at the time. So short story is mountains; long story is a man who went on to graduate and become a pilot. I am actually a very introverted person by nature, and I have learned that making the transition into management forced me to be extroverted. When I first started in management, by Friday, I didn’t want to speak or see a human for the next 48 hours and needed to recharge. I would pack up my car, load up my dog and go get lost in the woods for the weekend. I’m trying to do that now with my husband and hoping to introduce that to our son so he can also have that appreciation for the great outdoors. That certainly is a passion of mine.
Why did you choose the nursing profession?
I have always wanted to be a nurse. My mom actually has a picture of me when I was about 4 years old with a nurse’s cap and a stethoscope on. I was fortunate enough to have always wanted to do this and started working at it right out of high school. Sometimes you think you want to be something and you get into it and realize maybe it’s not for me, but being a nurse was a calling and I just always wanted it.
Can you describe your first years as a nurse?
For most of my career, I have been a hospice nurse. And I still moonlight with hospice, so I have been a hospice nurse for about 14 years. I am certified in hospice and palliative care. I was caring for people who were dying most of my career and I think that was partly why I learned to live. … People will talk about retiring and doing all the things they want to do; I had the fortunate situation when I was younger that I was single and I was making decent enough money that I could travel and do all those kinds of things before I was older and had a family. Then I had an opportunity to come to Kaiser Permanente. Having worked with the chronically and terminally ill, the idea Kaiser has on preventive medicine and keeping people healthy before they ever get to that point — or maybe preventing it all together — was really appealing to me.
How long have you been with Kaiser Permanente?
I have only been here just under a year. I found out that I was pregnant the week I accepted this job and thought, ‘There’s timing for you.’ But Kaiser has a great professional development program for nurse managers and I finished it the week before I was due. It was a 6-month really intensive professional development course and it was amazing. … I had been in managerial and leadership roles for almost a decade in some sort or fashion but I still learned so much. I had a professional development coach who I met with weekly and kind of talk about what was going on with my team, what I was learning and what I was struggling with. I had reading material and felt like I deserved a master’s degree by the time I was done. The other thing that is unique about Kaiser is that we — our employees — are a union. So as a manager, learning how to manage union employees was new to me and unique because there aren’t very many places where you have a union. … Kaiser is kind of famous for their labor/management partnership because often times there is opposition between management and union employees, but Kaiser has really worked for a long time … working with management and the union so that we work together rather than in opposition.
What do your responsibilities include?
My technical job is managing the nursing team for the physicians who practice here. It includes a lot of things from training the nursing staff to coordinating the nursing staff with the physician staff and then ensuring that we, all together, give the best care to patients.
Can you expand on Kaiser’s preventive care emphasis?
We encourage our members to take care of their health while they’re healthy rather than waiting for a problem to arise and then addressing it. The ideal preventive medicine is taking care of yourself — so eating well, exercising, and being aware of your predispositions to chronic illnesses and things like that, so that you can do what you can to keep yourself from having to deal with chronic illness.
What are some challenges you face as a nurse?
I think it is challenging being any type of caregiver with all of the regulations and requirements put on health care professionals. Most of us can take care of a patient, no problem, but then to have to document it until we are blue to prove that we did what we said we did to get reimbursed because it all, unfortunately, comes down to the bottom line. The whole idea of being a nurse is to care for someone. To me, that’s always been the biggest challenge — knowing that the time that it takes to prove what you know you have done is time taken away from actually caring for the patient.
What advice do you have for other young professionals?
I have never been afraid to speak up. I think there is wisdom to be learned from people who have been in the profession longer, who know any business or profession better than you, but I’ve never been afraid to interject and share my opinion. I think that obviously there is a balance in approaching that the right way, but I think there is value in learning from the younger generations and newer professionals — especially in medicine and nursing. They have the newest and greatest education. They have the most recent internship-type of experience. I think we have a habit of getting into, ‘This is how we have always done it’ and it’s important to learn from younger generations. And then as a young professional, not being afraid to speak up and say, ‘Hey, I have an opinion about this or an idea of how we can be doing something different,’ even if it is something that has always been done that way. … My first job — I was, by far, the youngest in the whole company, it seemed. I ended up in a leadership position early on and I was managing other nurses, some of whom were old enough to be my grandmother. I had to be sensitive about how exactly to approach that but I think that they came to appreciate that they knew things were going to continue to move forward, and as they started retiring, knowing that things were going to sustain.
Disclosure: Kaiser Permanente is a vendor of Colorado Publishing House, which prints the Colorado Springs Business Journal.