Rebekah Smith has never forgotten where she started.
The 2016 St. Clair County Community College Distinguished Alumna of the Year began her career in medicine as a nurse, and worked her way up the ladder in the same hospital — Lake Huron Medical Center in Port Huron, formerly St. Joseph Mercy Hospital — to become its CEO.
What she learned as a nurse has always stuck with her, and what she didn’t know about other aspects of the hospital, she made time to learn.
“Prior to becoming the CEO I was the Vice President of Operations, and when I took that role, I was over the pharmacy, the lab, the radiology department,” she said. “I knew about nursing, but I wasn’t as familiar with those other services, so I used to do a take your boss to work day, and I would put on my scrubs and go into those other departments and spend the day with them.
“It was probably one of the most rewarding parts of my job at that time. I learned that as the vice president, I was a nurse, so now when I became a CEO, I knew it all. That doesn’t mean I’m an expert by far in any of it, but what I learned is that the hospital is a city within a city. From the time the patient registers to the time they walk out the door, there are a million things that happen to them, and they have to interconnect. It’s mind-blowing the things that can happen and do happen in a hospital, and we always have to keep our attention on how what we’re doing impacts the patient.”
Smith’s attention to detail, to her staff and most importantly to her hospital’s patients, earned her major awards in 2016. She was named the Blue Water Woman Healthcare Executive of the Year and to Crain’s Detroit Business’ 100 Most Influential Women list.
The awards are great, but Smith insists they say more about the people working at her hospital than they do about her.
“It is rewarding, but I think the first thing it is, is it’s humbling,” Smith said. “I didn’t put the awards on my goals list. What I have done, is try to do whatever I’m in well. Hold myself and my service accountable, and keep the focus on the right things. In this particular situation, we have to run a business, we have to be able to have capital to buy technology to do services. But all of that really boils down to taking care of patients. If we do that well, everything else follows.
“For us this year, with the hospital transition, the fact we were able to keep the focus on the patient with all that other noise, to me that was incredible. I’m not the hero in that, the people that were providing the bedside care, and the people in the X-ray and lab, all those people who were providing services, they’re the heroes.”
Smith has, somehow, done much more than run a successful hospital. She serves on the Board of Directors of the SC4 Foundation, and as a board member for the United Way, Blue Water YMCA, Tri-Hospital EMS, Lakeshore Surgery Center, the Economic Development Alliance of St. Clair County, the St. Clair County Community Services Coordinating Body and Steering Committee, and the Lake Huron Foundation.
She said that being a part of those boards helps connect her and the hospital to many different parts of the community, which is important.
Smith has also served as a nursing instructor and Education Services Coordinator at SC4. She is a shining example of the nursing program’s great tradition, one she said has continued, and will continue moving forward.
“They’re very good about teaching theory and also real-life situations,” Smith said. “I think their instructors stay current. All of the clinical instructors have been nurses at some point, or they still are practicing as a bedside nurse. You can read and read and read, and it’s never going to prepare you for what to do once you really are faced with having a patient’s life in your hands.
“The Sim Lab is an incredible enhancement. That wasn’t available when I was doing my bedside nursing. They’ve evolved with the times, they are staying ahead of what technology is available out there to be able to introduce their students to what they’re going to face when they get into the real environment.”