PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Betty Kent-Conant still remembers her nursing school graduation in the late 1960s, when she received a pristine white nurse’s cap and cape as a graduation present from her parents.
The Northern Maine Community College instructor and chair of the college’s nursing and allied health department said she never believed her three-decade career at NMCC would go in the direction it did, but she said she couldn’t be happier with it.
Kent-Conant, a highly regarded educator and leader in the health care profession in Maine, was honored Monday as the 2010 inductee to the Aroostook County Health Care Professionals Wall of Distinction. The ceremony on the Presque Isle campus attracted a crowd of friends, family, colleagues and fellow volunteers.
This year’s selection holds special significance as Kent-Conant will retire at the end of this academic year after serving on the NMCC faculty for 30 years. She spent half of that time as nursing and allied health department chair.
The wall of honor, the concept for which was developed by faculty in the nursing and allied health department at NMCC, was unveiled to the public in May 2008.
“When I heard that I was going to be up on that wall, my first word was ‘wow,’” Kent-Conant said Tuesday. “It was just an overwhelming experience and such an honor. I always say that nothing is done in isolation, and I would not be where I am without the people — my mentors, my colleagues, my family and friends — who have helped me along the way.”
The Fort Fairfield resident was hired in 1979 by then Northern Maine Vocational Technical Institute as a health occupations instructor in the school of practical nursing. She helped the institution make the transition from a practical nursing program to today’s associate degree program and in 1994 took over as department chair.
Before joining NMCC, she held nursing positions at Community General Hospital in Fort Fairfield for a decade and spent a year as an emergency room staff nurse at Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington. She continued her nursing education and in 1989 secured a Master of Science in nursing from the University of South-ern Maine.
“I really always imagined that I would spend my life just being a nurse, just caring for others,” Kent-Conant said. “But then I got this job and it has been the best of both worlds. I have been able to teach people how to be caregivers while being a caregiver myself. I am an instructor, but I am first and foremost a nurse and will always be.”
Nursing has changed significantly over the years, Kent-Conant said. Health care not only has become more advanced, but technology also has become a bigger part of nursing.
“There are newer diagnostic tests, and most medical records and things are electronic now,” she said. “But in my classes, I have continued to teach the art of nursing right along with the science. The passion that you need to have for this line of work never changes, nor does the compassion that you need to have for others.”
NMCC President Tim Crowley described Kent-Conant as “an innovative leader in the delivery of nursing and health care education to residents of Maine, especially the rural rim counties of our state.”
“She has been a driving force in the expansion and outreach of associate degree-level nursing to residents of Washington County, southern Aroostook County and the St. John Valley,” he said. “Her efforts have put more highly trained registered nurses at the bedside of patients in rural Maine and have transcended nursing and allied education delivery at our college, especially in the area of technology. Today, because of her efforts, NMCC is a leader in the delivery of health care education.”
Eileen McDougal, NMCC senior-level nursing faculty member, said the NMCC nursing faculty unanimously selected Kent-Conant for the honor “because of her commitment to the profession of nursing and dedication to the education of nursing students at the college.”
Kent-Conant was appointed by former Gov. Angus King to serve on the Maine State Board of Nursing in 1999 and reappointed to the board in 2003 by Gov. John Baldacci. She also serves on the Associate Degree Nursing Council of Maine.
Locally, Kent-Conant serves on The Aroostook Medical Center-Horizons Inc. board of directors, the Eastern Maine Health Care Professional Advisory Committee, the Northern Maine Regional Emergency Medical Services Council and the Northern Maine Rural Health Research Coalition. She belongs to a number of profes-sional organizations and has garnered several awards, including Outstanding Woman of Aroostook County in 2001-02.
Kent-Conant’s official photo now graces the Wall of Distinction. She said that her future involves turning off all of her alarm clocks and her watch, putting away her day timer and spending time traveling, golfing and visiting family and friends.
“The thing I am going to miss the most is the people,” said Kent-Conant. “I am still going to continue my work with community groups because that is who I am, but I will very much miss the people and students that I have interacted with every day. It has been a blessing and a privilege to have worked with all of them.”