Penner's dedication recognized with honour

To say Jennifer Penner wears many hats would be an understatement.

She's the team lead and nurse clinician at Lethbridge's Heart Function Clinic/Heart Failure Network, a regular guest lecturer in University of Lethbridge nursing classes and an advocate for more connected and patient-centric health care. Yet, at heart, her professional scope is unified by a very personal philosophy.

"The thing that has inspired me is the connection with patients and families, and the ability to deliver excellent care in such a way that it will empower people to live better lives," says Penner.

Jennifer Penner
Penner relishes the opportunity to work collaboratively with the u of L's Faculty of Health Sciences.

Clearly Penner has passed that inspiration along to others. This year, her longstanding contributions are being recognized with the 2012 Friends of Health Sciences Award, an annual honour from the Faculty of Health Sciences that recognizes an individual or agency that has made a significant contribution to health education and research at the University of Lethbridge.

Originally from Bow Island, Alta., Penner completed her initial nursing education at Medicine Hat College and her bachelor of science in nursing degree at the University of Alberta. She has spent most of her 25-year career in southern Alberta. Today, Penner supervises five nurses at the Heart Failure Clinic, as well as leads the relatively new and forward-thinking Heart Failure Network, which she helped to create in 2008.

By encouraging greater collaboration between diverse roles such as case managers, acute care workers and even family doctors, the network integrates health services among these practitioners and increases their awareness of their roles relative to their colleagues, and even more significantly, to the patient.

"When we understand what everyone's role is, the patient in the middle gets better benefits and outcomes," says Penner.

With an estimated 500,000 heart failure patients in Canada and more than 80,000 in Alberta alone, the significance of this work becomes even more apparent. At 10,000 admissions per year, heart failure is one of the most common diagnoses for medical admission to hospital, says Penner.

"It's a huge chronic disease. That's why we need an approach that's far reaching to promote better care, better outcomes and wise utilization of health-care resources."

She adds that greater integration tends to increase patient stability, which cuts costs by reducing the burden on busy emergency rooms and contributes to fewer admissions to acute care facilities.

On top of her leadership in the Heart Failure Network, Penner also shares her expertise with the next generation of nurses, a commitment that began in 2003. Today, she lectures for several faculty members in both nursing and research courses, grounding her talks about heart failure in actual case studies that the young nurses-in-training are likely to encounter early in their careers.

"Lecturing is near and dear to my heart," says Penner. "I love having an influence on promoting clinical excellence and building the future of nursing."

She also helps students gain experience by connecting them with practical work experiences in clinics, and helping with other real-world skills such as cardiac assessment.

While Penner is clearly motivated by factors beyond awards and accolades, she says she is "deeply honoured" to be recognized by the University of Lethbridge, noting that her work in the academic setting has helped her realize her own personal potential.

"It is so rewarding to be collaborative, to work with the esteemed professionals at the University and to experience the infectious vitality of new nurses. It motivates me and inspires me to be better."

The Friends of Health Sciences Award reception is Saturday, Oct. 13 at 2 p.m. in the Markin Hall Atrium.

This story first appeared in the October 2012 issue of the Legend. To read the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.