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Bryant Shumate

Celebrating Our People – Meet Bryant

December 15, 2023 Posted in: Patients & Providers  5 minute read time

Making the Right Choice


Life is about choices. Every choice determines the direction of a person’s life.

For Saint Joseph Hospital ICU nursing manager Bryant Shumate, his first choice was to jump out of an airplane. Several years and many choices later, he’s sharing his experiences as a military veteran and nurse to help train the next generation of nurses.

“When I was 17, my dad convinced me it would be fun to jump out of airplanes,” Bryant said. “He was wrong. But I served for a few years and didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. I served in the 19th special forces unit, and with that kind of work, you’d be gone for training or deployment most of the time. I had a choice to be gone all the time for my career or come home to the love of my life.”

From Olive Hill, Kentucky, Bryant said he didn’t know what he wanted to do when he was a teenager. His dad gave him a few choices: Go to college, enlist in the National Guard or get a job at the steel mill where his father worked.

Bryant enlisted at 17 years old in the West Virginia National Guard. He returned home to Kentucky a few years later to join the Kentucky National Guard’s 201st Combat Engineer Battalion as a medic and married the love of his life, his wife of 33 years. Bryant attended airborne training and medical training while serving in the military.

“I knew I would go into health care, and for a small town kid, going to medical school seemed like a shot at the stars,” Bryant said. “Because I was a medic in the military, I was able to take the state EMT certification test immediately, and I obtained my EMT certificate. I still didn’t know exactly where I was going in my career, but it was aligned with what the military trained me to do.”

Bryant volunteered with the local ambulance service and hospital emergency department, and was still thinking about his career potential. He enrolled in nursing school, but withdrew because of “rashness and God’s will,” Bryant said.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Bryant said, noting the crossroads he was at in his early days in health care.” Just so happened University of Kentucky had an emergency medical services training center and he enrolled in a paramedic program. He continued working as a nurse aid in the emergency department and as an EMT. 

He first learned of air ambulances from the chief dispatcher where he was working as an EMT. Only four in the state in the late 80s and early 90s, it was not commonplace to dispatch a helicopter to emergency scenes except on rare occasions. Bryant said his first experience with an air ambulance happened in 1990 when he was on the scene of a bad car crash.

“This was a pivotal moment in my career,” Bryant said. “I was so impressed with how calm, cool and collected they were transporting the patient. That’s what I knew I wanted to do for a living. That’s also when I met Sandy Wells, and not only was she my inspiration to want to go into that line of work, but she eventually became my trainer, mentor and great lifelong friend.”

Bryant returned to school and became a nurse, and began pursuing the requirements to become a flight nurse. He had rotations through the intensive care unit, emergency departments and critical care units to gain knowledge and experience in a level one trauma center in preparation for his dream role.

“I think a lot of life is what you’ve been blessed with and the other part is what you want to put into it,” Bryant said. “I asked every few weeks, and one day, someone resigned so they had a position opened. I had been doing a ride-along that day and walked in at the right time asking about openings. I was interviewed on the spot by the chief flight nurse. Coming out of the military, I didn’t have any issues flying. They asked me when I could start.”

Called to Inspire, Support the Next Generation of Nurses

Bryant worked as a nurse for four years, then served as a flight nurse for seven years. He has worked in seven different nursing positions, from in the air to the classroom, educating the next generation of nurses. Throughout his career, he gained knowledge and experience, but his calling came after receiving a liver transplant in 2021.

“I had a liver transplant in 2021, and I was pretty much retired,” Bryant said. “I was at the University of Kentucky’s transplant center for a year, then I went to the University of Pittsburgh to be evaluated and placed on their list, too. On March 1, 2021, I got the call that it was time. We get everything started, then the anesthesiologist comes in and tells me the liver isn’t viable.”

A miracle happened. Not yet discharged from the hospital, Bryant said the same doctor came back with news that another liver became available, and it was viable for transplantation.

“Statistically speaking, it's not possible to have two chances for transplant within hours of each other,” Bryant said. “It was divine intervention.”

After recovery, Bryant said he felt a calling to share his experiences and help younger nurses navigate health care and become better providers.

“It is difficult to face sick patients, especially throughout the pandemic when new grads didn’t get the experience they needed in their clinical rotations to start their first position with very sick patients. This is the business of life and death, so having seen all areas of this, I try to share my experiences and coping mechanisms through storytelling and education.”

Bryant said his military training helped him face the difficulties and trauma that nurses face each day. He wants to help others find their passion and craft.

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