At the beginning of March 2020, most people found themselves grounded. Jennifer Stone, on the other hand, was heading to her first day at her new job — as an ER nurse.
There wasn’t much in the way of an easing-in period, to put it mildly. “It was all COVID-19 all the time,” she recalls. “Everything else was shut down.”
She emerged from the early pandemic haze battle-tested, even as she spent those harrowing first few months worried about her own health: Stone had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes several years earlier, at age 20.
In a way, that diagnosis facilitated her transition to adulthood, Stone says now. “You’re taking daily injections and worrying about your stress levels, but for me maybe it was a blessing in disguise. I don’t know if I would be as balanced and healthy as I am now if I didn’t have to be.”
Stone knows balance. Between 2007 and 2012, as one of the stars of the Disney Channel hit Wizards of Waverly Place, she lived a very different life than most children her age.
“My family still jokes that it was a hobby that got out of control,” she recalls with a laugh.
Stone was bitten by the proverbial bug at age 6, when her older brother — now a high school teacher — attended theater camp. “I was the little sister who got dragged along everywhere,” she continues. “At some point, it just clicked for me. And then it snowballed to what it became.”
After getting her start in theater in her home state of Texas, Stone decamped to Los Angeles. Before long, she had scored guest roles on House and Without a Trace. Wizards made her a bona fide star at a time when she had little idea what it entailed.
“I loved what I was doing. From early on, it was so magical to me to be other people,” Stone says. But her Wizards tenure coincided with the rise of social media and everything that came with it, especially for young actresses.
“Everybody has to do it now, but at the time we were all learning about the pros and cons of having everything in your life out in the public,” she notes. “That zit on my forehead — I mean, I’m 16 years old. I’m going to have acne.”
After Wizards ended in 2012, Stone made the decision to study psychology. She had always been interested in the sciences, she says, and had previously read Freud and Jung in order to more effectively “get into the mindset of an actor.” However, her transition was thrown into flux when she was diagnosed with diabetes.
“I didn’t realize how life-changing it would be,” Stone recalls. “The nurse called me and said, ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,’ like there was a death in the family or something. But you deal with it. That’s how my mom raised me: When there’s adversity, you deal with it.”
Her treatment journey was far from linear. “I had great experiences with educators and nurses, and not-so-great experiences with educators and nurses,” Stone continues. The problem, she believes, lies with the broader treatment matrix for a condition that, its prevalence notwithstanding, remains vexing to wrestle under control.
“The biggest thing was there were healthcare providers who wanted my diabetes to be cookie-cutter,” she explains. “At times it felt like people were blaming me for not fitting into their box.”
Stone’s diabetes changed not just her day-to-day existence, but her professional path. She pivoted from studying psychology to pursuing a nursing degree. Even though she characterizes herself as “kind of a science nerd” and says, with legitimate enthusiasm in her voice, that “cadaver day at nursing school was such an exciting day for me!” it’s clear that, minus her diagnosis, Stone might never have found her way into the business of providing care.
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a soft spot for diabetes patients. I wanted to be that relief for the patients who were going through what I was going through,” she acknowledges.
That’s why Stone’s work with Medtronic, as a spokesperson for the company’s InPen smart insulin pen, has proven rewarding for her. “I’ve been using it for years and it’s a device I love using,” she says. “Diabetes stop-starts your life every day. Anything that allows you to get back to your life much quicker is something that’s going to be great for you.”
As for what comes next, Stone leaves the door open to several pathways. She might pursue formal training as a diabetes educator at some point, but as of now has no plans to leave the ER. Even as she relishes the challenge it presents, Stone concedes that her current weekly schedule — three days as a nurse, four as an actor — doesn’t leave time or energy for much else.
“We do, and see, some really hard stuff,” she says. “I have to remember to give myself some good mental-recovery time .… There are many lunch breaks when I’m working on a script for the next day’s audition.”
One of her nurse colleagues, Sandra Kung, remains impressed by how adeptly Stone manages the stress and physical demands that come with balancing her two professions — not to mention her spirit of teamwork.
“In the ER, things can go from bad to worse to horrible in a matter of seconds,” Kung explains. “Jen is that nurse that I can always count on to have my back when things go south. Even when she’s busy, she will make sure her co-workers don’t drown.”
Stone is keen for her two worlds to collide more often, so it’s no surprise that bringing more and better representation of diabetes into public view tops her to-do list. The In-Between, a 2019 movie she co-wrote and starred in, featured a character grappling with the quotidian reality of the condition.
“It showed type 1 diabetes as it actually is, rather than in the Julia Roberts/Steel Magnolias melodramatic way,” Stone says. “We need more of that. There are so many great patient stories I want to see — and there are so many people that need to feel like they’re being seen.”