From Louisville’s West End to the American West and back, a career in caring and listening

Norton Healthcare employee Tonya Anthony has an advanced health care degree and has worked as an educator to nurses. According to Tonya, some of her most important teachers were her patients.

When asked, Tonya Anthony, a clinical effectiveness coordinator with Norton Healthcare, offers some life advice.

“You have to let go of your idea of help and accept the patient’s perspective and definition of help.”

Tonya has put that philosophy into practice many times in her career and life. 

In 2012, Tonya left Louisville to work as a registered nurse case manager on a Navajo/Hopi reservation in Northern Arizona. With past jobs in medical/surgical nursing, long-term care, occupational health, nursing education and the insurance industry, Tonya knew her health care experience was needed.

“The population was grossly underserved, and I thought based on my personal experience, that I could help them and make a difference,” Tonya said. “But I was wrong. Instead, they taught me the importance of letting go and listening.”

Tonya faced obstacles when she started in Arizona but worked hard to overcome them. She began helping patients who spoke a different language learn about preserving insulin without refrigeration and electricity. 

“To every group, someone is an outsider. To them, that was me. I was the outsider coming in to tell them how to do things,” Tonya said. “Instead, I needed to bridge the gap and help where they needed it.”

Tonya was a little bit of everything in her role: a case manager, a friend, a medical practitioner and a trusted advisor. Sometimes her biggest challenge was just getting patients to show up for their appointments. Even if they came, patients’ inexperience with health care strained the communication. But she always went back to her motto. 

“You have to let go of the way you think you will help them and embrace just listening to them.”

Though Tonya relished her time in Arizona, life pulled her back to Louisville in 2016 as a clinical educator. In 2020, she landed a role in Norton Healthcare’s clinical effectiveness department.

“This was in the face of COVID-19, and I was still doing what I have always done: getting creative in less-than-ideal circumstances,” Tonya said.

Providing care in Louisville during the difficulties of a global pandemic drew on Tonya’s experience on the Navajo and Hopi reservations. With COVID-19, the challenges were just closer to home.

“We had underserved populations with low medical literacy being tasked with understanding quite a bit of information,” Tonya said. “We dealt with patients who didn’t trust health care organizations,  and we dealt with a workforce who were quickly being burned out.” 

Then in February 2022, Norton Healthcare announced a $70 million investment to build Norton West Louisville Hospital at 28th Street and West Broadway. The hospital would be the first such hospital in West Louisville to be built in more than 100 years. 

Years ago, as a single mother, Tonya lived across the street from where the new hospital is under construction. It was her corner of town. 

“I was actually the person living in the community this hospital is designed to help. We were often without electricity and accessible health care. Having a hospital so close to my home when my kids were younger would have made a huge difference!” Tonya said.

Her enthusiasm for the project has made her one of its “ambassadors” in the community, helping Norton Healthcare communicate about the new hospital and listen to what its neighbors want to see the facility become. Her work in clinical effectiveness for the health system also touches aspects of the new hospital.

In Tonya’s eyes, this hospital and her work with it are representative of her whole life and career. 

“It’s all about meeting people where they are. From Arizona to Louisville, there are those living without basic necessities that others take for granted  — food, indoor plumbing, electricity, safety. It is up to us to understand this and care for the individual as we treat their acute/chronic conditions, ” said Tonya, who recently graduated with a doctorate in health professions education from Bellarmine University, with a financial assist from the Norton Healthcare Scholars Program.

 So how is she going to carry on? The way she always has. With love and a passion for health care. 

“We need to see patients as people, not as a skill or a task to be accomplished,” Tonya said. “They are all different, with different needs and different backgrounds. But we can deliver care that hopefully results in positive outcomes for the patient, if we can step inside their shoes.”

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