Alumna embraces innovation; leads nursing profession
into its next chapter
profession has always been a natural fit for Lynda Gruenewald-Schmitz, '03. Her
path was clear as early as high school when she developed an interest in the
“I always saw
nursing as a very stable profession with endless opportunities…to grow, to
lead, to help people,” said Gruenewald-Schmitz.
She credits her
family as her biggest supporters, always encouraging her to take leaps in her
Her parents (a
plumber and a teacher) instilled in her a strong and consistent work ethic,
emphasizing the importance of education. Her mother, Karen (Woltring)
Gruenewald, '74, was the only one of her siblings to earn a college degree. This distinction was
no small feat for any member of the post-Depression generation, but Gruenewald was
determined to make it work – and so she did. After marrying and starting their
family, she enrolled at (then) Cardinal Stritch College, earning a degree in
cites her mother’s example as inspiration to always seek education
opportunities. With her parents’ full support, she earned a degree in nursing
and began her career.
Gruenewald-Schmitz’s first nursing jobs was in hospice care in New York.
“At the time, I
just fell into it,” said Gruenewald-Schmitz. “I certainly didn’t expect hospice
care to become my passion, but it has.”
learned, however, how rewarding and challenging the work can be.
hospice care do not provide only clinical attention,” she explained. “This line
of work requires the whole person – clinical/professional knowledge, emotional
depth, communications skills. Every detail matters.”
In the earliest
years of her career, Gruenewald-Schmitz developed a lifelong commitment to
providing comfortable end-of-life care for patients and support for their grieving
led to one of the hallmark achievements of both her professional and personal
In 1998, on a
field trip with her son’s class, Gruenewald-Schmitz bonded with a sweet little boy named Kyle. Two months later, she was shocked to learn that
Kyle’s mother had died in a car accident.
time with Kyle in the months following his mother’s unexpected death,
Gruenewald-Schmitz thought often of a child bereavement center she had helped
launch in New York. She knew that Kyle and his younger sisters needed a place
like that, but there was no such center in Milwaukee.
In October 2001,
Gruenewald-Schmitz founded Kyle’s Korner, a bereavement center for children and their
families. With the help of the School Sisters of Saint Francis and countless
hours of research, she was able to fill this significant void within the
community and provide children with resources and support as they mourn loved
During this time,
Gruenewald-Schmitz was also working in a leadership position in hospice care.
Still focused on continuous education, she had implemented new programs for her
“I tend to
approach change and opportunity through education,” she said. “To be able to
sleep at night, you have to know that you are doing all you can for your
The new programs
had immediate results that led to better care for hospice patients and their
families. The positive changes inspired Gruenewald-Schmitz to more formally
advance her education.
In 2000, a mother
with two young children, a fulltime job for which she was always “on call,” and
a Kyle’s Korner nearing its launch, Gruenewald-Schmitz enrolled in Stritch’s
Master of Science in Nursing program.
Although she was
certain that she wanted to earn her MSN, Gruenewald-Schmitz admitted there were
plenty of challenges along the way. She credits Stritch’s supportive faculty
and her cohort with helping her persevere.
“Dr. Ruth Waite
was my advisor at the time,” said Gruenewald-Schmitz. “Her support and
encouragement are what got me through.”
remembered one particular day when the delicate act of balancing time with her
family, a fulltime job, building Kyle’s Korner, and her MSN coursework was starting to become overwhelming.
“I walked into
Dr. Waite’s office to discuss the challenges I was facing,” she
recalled. “And she wouldn’t give up on me.”
Gruenewald-Schmitz to stick with it and helped to adjust her course schedule to
provide a more manageable balance.
“I am so grateful
for her support,” said Gruenewald-Schmitz. “She may not know this, but she
helped to start Kyle’s Korner. I couldn’t have done it without her
In addition to
the support she received, Gruenewald-Schmitz credits Stritch’s MSN program with
opening her eyes to entirely different specializations within the nursing
profession. She loved learning from the other nurses in her cohort about
orthopedics, oncology, and pediatrics.
Gruenewald-Schmitz was named vice president of clinical innovation for Wheaton
Franciscan Healthcare. She was recruited for the position through her
pioneering work with Kyle’s Korner.
“I was ready to
embrace a new challenge,” said Gruenewald-Schmitz. “The position offered a
tremendous opportunity to use my experiences to help vulnerable populations.”
As vice president
of clinical innovation, she focused her efforts on helping departments
challenge the status quo and move toward more patient-focused processes.
currently holds the newly created position of vice president and chief nursing
officer of non-acute services, a role that she is enthusiastic about developing.
reinventing itself right now,” she explained. “Traditionally, clinic-based nurses haven’t
had direct access to nursing leadership, but the role of nursing is becoming much more
believes that Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare is on the cutting edge of the
profession’s development. She recently attended a national conference for nursing
executives. When asked, in the room of more than 300 people, who held her
position, only a handful of individuals responded.
She believes that new roles in nursing are the answer to many of the healthcare reform challenges ahead.
“We are seeing a
lot of changes in healthcare,” she said. “More than 50 percent of patient care
is now provided in outpatient settings. Since we’re treating more chronic disease, there
needs to be more emphasis on primary care.”
that changes in healthcare need to be met with patient-centered care, and
nurses are prepared to do so.
references an example of a person living with diabetes. If the individual
experiences urgent complications due to his condition, he will typically visit an urgent
care clinic to receive immediate attention. Providers often have only 15 minutes
to spend with the patient, and it may not be enough time to adequately address the comprehensive care needs of the patient.
If that same
individual, however, has a well-established relationship with his primary care
physician, more emphasis can be placed on education and prevention of
complications. Gruenewald-Schmitz would like to see clinics offer more education
sessions and provide more than medical treatment.
She believes that
nurses are key individuals in patient advocacy. Because they spend more time
with patients, they may be able to assess more deeply than
medical symptoms. For example, a nurse who knows an elderly woman’s husband
recently passed away may pick up on symptoms of depression.
“We need to view
our patients as whole people,” said Gruenewald-Schmitz. “Patient-centered care
is about seeing more than just the medical symptoms. We, as healthcare
professionals, have to be able to make those personal healing connections with patients.”
This is an
unprecedented time in the nursing profession, and one that is filled with
opportunities and excitement. With a legacy of patient advocacy throughout her
career, Gruenewald-Schmitz is just the person to lead the changes.