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Old 12-01-2018, 10:09 AM
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Default My Nursing Journey: Advice for Nursing Students

It was never my plan to become a nurse. This, despite growing up surrounded by nurses - or perhaps because of it. I always had tremendous respect for the profession; my mother and two aunts are nurses. These three women are some of the most influential people in my life. I believed I had “what it takes” to be a good nurse, I just had other plans for what I was going to be when I grew up. However, as is often the case, nursing isn’t a career that you choose, rather it chooses you. This was definitely true in my case.

I was ‘chosen’ to be a nurse my sophomore year at George Mason University [where I was studying music], when my family and I were involved in a terrible car accident. My siblings and I sustained minor injuries, but my mother was hurt badly and faced a long, difficult recovery. Because of this, I dropped out of college to help take care of her. This incident made me realize that being a nurse was what I was put on this earth to do. As a result, I enrolled in the local community college and obtained my Associates Degree in Nursing in 2005. I wanted to get my degree as quickly as possible so I could start making a difference.

I was by no means a straight “A” student, and I think I may have underestimated how difficult nursing school would be. The combination of what was happening in my personal life, along with the fact that I was never a strong student made nursing school difficult for me. The professors where incredibly supportive, however maintained the same expectations of me that they did of my peers (which I appreciate to this day). It forced me to not give up. When you think about it, as a nurse, your decisions and actions could mean life or death for your patients, there is no room for exceptions.

I have been very fortunate to enjoy a successful and diverse career with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing. I have worked in a number of health care settings over the last 15 years, each with an increasing level of responsibility and leadership. I started my career as many of my colleagues; in the hospital setting providing care at the bedside. Over the next several years I worked in a variety of specialties such as Occupational Health, OR and Case Management. I quickly discovered that I have a knack for quality improvement; I like identifying areas of opportunities for improvement and making suggestions that will improve care delivery.

My first introduction into a leadership role was about five years in to my nursing career. This was not something I was seeking, but a natural professional evolution. I always remained focused on what was best for the patients, profession and organization, and I believe that is what opened doors. About seven years ago I transitioned from direct patient care to the business side of healthcare; focusing on healthcare economics. Leaving direct patient care was challenging for me, but I was able to find a sense of purpose and mission ensuring that all are provided affordable access to health care.

In a world where higher education has become more and more of a requirement, I admit there was a time when I questioned my abilities as nurse because I did not have more initials after my name. This was magnified when I moved from the direct patient care to the business side of healthcare. I felt like my friends at the hospital thought I was “selling out”. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it’s not the place where you work or the job that you do which defines you as a nurse; it is the lives that you touch and the difference that you make in the profession. I worked my way up to an executive level position on my merits and work ethic in a world where I was surround by MSN’s, NP’s, MPH’s and MBA’s. Although I would have never admitted it at the time to anyone, I secretly questioned my abilities. I felt self-conscious; feeling that I wasn’t qualified to be in the positions I have had because I ‘only’ had an Associate’s Degree.

It was in that time of insecurity when I was fortunate to have met an amazing leader in my organization who went on to become a very good friend and mentor. He saw something special in me and challenged me to push my limits. He also found opportunities to increase my visibility and provide me a platform to showcase my talents. What I discovered was that I earned the right to be where I was and, in the end, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. My mentor is a brilliant man who worked his way up through the ranks in the healthcare industry with only some college, and no degree himself. When I met him, he was an Executive Vice President at a major commercial carrier, he is now the CEO. Last year he graduated college with his Bachelor’s Degree.

In 2015 I was promoted to an executive leadership position at a major health insurer. I was responsible for managing a consultative team of clinicians, healthcare strategists and data & informatics specialists who advise on population health. I had significant responsibilities that challenged me beyond the scope of nursing, such as; budget management, strategic planning and personnel management. These were not skills I learned in school; I had to figure it out along the way through observation, listening and asking questions.

I have always been motivated by mission and sense of purpose, as most nurses are. I was so fortunate to have found gratification through the work my team did to help manage the rising and unsustainable cost of health care. While I enjoyed the work, I always felt something was missing.

I was approached last year by the Defense Health Agency (which is a division of the Department of Defense) regarding a permanent advisor position within the Agency. After a very long process, I finally landed my dream job. I am now in a position to blend my passion for healthcare and our military, and leverage the skills I have learned through my clinical and leadership roles. I now work to apply those skills to standardize and directly improve the health care delivery system of our active duty military members and their beneficiaries.

In the nursing profession, as well as many others, professional advancement often requires academic advancement. I am very fortunate to have come this far in my career on my own merits. I credit that to my desire to learn, drive to make a difference, advocacy for my profession, the amazing professional mentors I have had, and the fantastic education that I received. I did not choose to peruse my BSN because I had to in order to advance my career. I chose to go back to school because I wanted to do this for myself, to prove to myself that I can do it and reward all my efforts with three letters: BSN.

I will be graduating in May 2019 with honors, and I can honestly say that I would not be where I am today with out the education I received throughout my career. My advice to a new nurse is: Advocate for what you believe is right; never stop learning; love what you do and never forget why you do it. Finally, don’t be afraid to forge your own path.
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