Celebrating One of Memorial’s Military Heroes – Staff Nurse Pennie Pavlisin

She dreaded the thought of spending her entire career at one hospital. So after 10 months of working as a nurse in Kearney, Nebraska, Pennie Pavlisin, MS, RN-BC, joined the Air Force, hoping to see the world.

“I was intrigued with the Air Force recruiters when I was in college,” Pavlisin said. “The Air Force looked exciting—it allowed me to serve my country; offered an opportunity to travel; and if I made it a career, I could retire when I was in my early to mid-50s.”

Now, working nights as a staff nurse at Memorial Hospital Belleville, Pavlisin reflected on a 27-year Air Force career that saw her stationed in Germany and deployed to Iraq, among other places; flying throughout the European theater of operations and to the U.S. as a flight nurse; earning a master’s degree in health services administration and completing advanced military education; serving as a squadron commander (the Air Force equivalent of a CEO/CNO) for several military medical facilities; and reaching the rank of colonel. She accomplished all of this while also raising a family, being active in her church, and getting a private pilot’s license.

Talking to the recruiters sparked Pavlisin’s dream to work as a flight nurse, a goal she accomplished early in her career. While based in Germany, she experienced a career highlight—being chosen for the high-profile mission of helping bring Thomas Sutherland, an American professor kidnapped by Lebanese militants, home after his release.

Another highlight came in 2003. “Deploying to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom was a wonderful opportunity, and the great things we were able to do for the Iraqi people were extraordinary,” Pavlisin said. “It was quite humbling to see moms trying to give us their kids, so they could have a better life.”

Pavlisin, who is also a mom, found herself at one time working her clinic job during the day; taking grueling master’s classes at night (bringing along a new infant daughter when necessary); and juggling family life with her husband, a fellow Air Force officer with a long commute to his Pentagon job.

“We made it happen,” she said. As a family with two officers in different career fields, they worked through challenges that fit their family.

For Pavlisin, even the tough times in the military were an honor. She is proud, she said, of “meeting and working with outstanding people at every assignment; being selected for the Thomas Sutherland mission; meeting my husband and supporting him in his various positions as he supported me; achieving the rank of colonel before retiring; raising our children in the Air Force; and living by the core values of Integrity, Service Before Self, and Excellence in all we do.”

She’s now proud of working at Memorial and being seen as “a team player and resource.” Working for an organization that values veterans as BJC does is gratifying, she said.

“I value my military service, and I’m honored that BJC values veterans,” Pavlisin said. “My service to our nation is truly an honor!”

Last Veterans Day, BJC thanked healthcare heroes like Pavlisin, who serve in all roles across the system, for having served their country. Team members who have served in the military and those who are currently serving gathered for a virtual celebration on Wednesday, November 11. Each hospital and service organization also thanked veterans locally.

BJC is grateful to the military veterans who now serve patients and families. These employees bring unique experiences and perspectives to BJC’s team of 31,000 caregivers and are an asset to BJC’s mission and fulfilling our BJC Values of Compassion, Respect, Excellence, Safety, and Teamwork.