Monday, February 24, 2014

The Joys of Being a Nursing Student

Nursing school. AKA: mini medical-school boot camp. There should be a disclaimer that you sign prior to attending any level of nursing school. It should read something like: will never sleep again, have any kind of social life, will lose most if not all of your sanity and in very fine print: the nursing school is not responsible for the loss of said items.

Now, I'm not saying that other degrees are not challenging or that the above issues don't come along with other majors. However, when I was in my undergraduate degree, I couldn't help but envy the English majors or fine arts majors lounging on the grass, sleeping, doing nothing in particular while I dragged my sorry ass to the library for the 6th time that week prepping for another 20+ page paper. When in the library, you could always differentiate the nursing majors from everyone else. They would have the BIG tables reserved, with huge reference books spread out, and a look of defeat in their eyes knowing that even though they are selecting the "correct answer" it isn't the "most" correct answer.

But, I signed up for this, right? Right. The profession of nursing is a choice. Its also a calling. Cliché, right? In all reality though, nursing isn't made for the faint of heart, the money hungry, or the lazy. (The money hungry part always floored me; I mean, nurses really don't make that much money considering most of us get yelled at, kicked, spit, peed, or pooped on.) I believe that is part of why nursing school is so hard, because nursing is hard. School is a way to test your desire, your drive to be a part of this amazing profession. If you don't want it with every part of your being, you are going to hate every second of your education followed by hating every second of your job.

Graduate school has proven not that much different from my undergraduate nursing education. The classes are tough, deadlines are strict, and minimum GPA to pass is no joke. I mean, a B+ to pass? Come on! This adventure of schooling has been a slightly different challenge in that I have to balance a big-girl job, not just work study and the occasionally dog-walking gig like I did in college. I have a house to pay for, bills that come every month like clockwork, and patients that are counting on me to be at my best every day I clock into work.

Why do I torture myself? Because being a nurse is all I have wanted to do my entire adult life. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, October 18, 2013

So, you're not a real nurse then, right?

Ah yes, the unequivocal definition of a nurse: at the bedside, giving medications, spiking IV bags, emptying bedpans, answering call lights, running from room to room in orthopedic nursing shoes. There are no variations of this definition, right?


The field of nursing is vast and varied. There are so many dimensions of the profession, even a nurse cannot comprehend the options available to them (here is just one list of the types of nursing, thank you Wikipedia!). When I entered into the field, I was just as guilty of this false generalization of what a nurse is and should be. If you aren't working at the bedside, you aren't a real nurse. This assumption is as outdated as the white dress and cap that adorned the nurses of previous generations. Once I began working in a specialty that was far from bedside nursing, I quickly ditched the traditional view of a real nurse and realized that nursing can be anywhere, anytime, and come in any form.

I now work doing telephone triage, never seeing the patients I care for. I listen to their symptoms, sometimes hear them cry and scream, advise them what they should do, educate them on their disease processes, counsel them on their medications, and sometimes guide them through crisis. My shift can include anything and everything; I never know what will be on the other end of the phone when I answer, Telephone nurse advisor, how can I help you? I have fielded phone calls from suicidal patients, a mother of a homicidal 6 year-old, patients experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath, a screaming mother who just saw her child run over by an ATV, teenagers who have "lost" their condom places, women miscarrying sometimes their fourth or fifth pregnancy, children with fevers and a cough, and so on.

I was recently asked this question by a friend of a friend, after explaining the type of nursing I do: So, you're not a real nurse then, right? Does my job make me less of a nurse because I'm not laying my hands on the patients I treat? Because I now lack a physical and visual presence in the patient's life? Is the quality improvement nurse, who spends hours checking statistics and collecting data to ensure safe and effective care, any less of a nurse to the patients he/she is protecting? What about the nurse managers who pour over policies, procedures, staff schedules, attend countless meeting and wade through administrative B.S. to make the working lives of their nurses easier so care of the patients can be done smoothly? The clinical trials nurse who helps coordinate the paperwork and navigates the red tape for hundreds, sometimes thousands of patients in potentially life saving drug trials, what about them?

Society has clung to the outdated vision of a nurse. It is time to relinquish the grasp on what was and embrace what is: nurses do exist beyond the bedside.

Secretly, I hope the person who made that ridiculous statement to me calls the nurse advisor line sometime for advice and gets me, the apparent "non-nurse". But that's the sassy side of me talking.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


The envelope arrived. One that has been anxiously awaited for over a month.

"It gives me great pleasure to offer you unconditional admission to the Niehoff School of Nursing of Loyola University Chicago."

That's right, I was accepted to graduate school. 

Let me take a moment to do a happy dance.

After deciding to "settle back in" to life here in La Crosse, I did some soul searching in anticipation of needing to re-direct my career path given my back injury. Many jobs in nursing require a master's degree, especially those that would accommodate my restrictions. Lots of nurses decide to get their master's and become a nurse practitioner, a career which never appealed to me. Others obtain their master's to teach at the collegiate level, with the intent to later pursue a PhD. With the few years of experience as a nurse I had under my belt, teaching, although an eventual goal of mine, wasn't realistic at this point. Where did that leave me? What type of degree would I get? What job would make me happy?

The Clinical Nurse Specialist.

What do they do? According to the APRN:

"Key elements of CNS practice are to create environments through mentoring and (p. 8) system changes that empower nurses to develop caring, evidence-based practices to alleviate patient distress, facilitate ethical decision-making, and respond to diversity. The CNS is responsible and accountable for diagnosis and treatment of health/illness states, disease management, health promotion, and prevention of illness and risk behaviors among individuals, families, groups, and communities."
In essence, the CNS is a jack of all trades and works across the entire continuum of care. A perfect fit for someone with my background. Most CNS programs are geared toward the general. Critical care, adult care or pediatrics are the most common CNS specialties. Nurses then graduate and try to obtain jobs in the exact specialty they desire (i.e. pediatric surgery, cardiac care, geriatric care, ect).  The program at Loyola is geared specifically toward the oncology population and is one of the only of its kind. As I have said many times before, oncology patients are my favorite and one that I feel passionate about.  I will be taking courses in genetics, cancer biology, and research. And, yes, I'm excited about them; a trait the program director said makes me a perfect fit for the program.

I will be registering for classes this week and starting my first term in August. I'm excited and slightly nervous about being back in school. It will take about 3 years to complete the program as a part-time student. After I graduate, the world of possibility expands and who knows where it will take me. I'm jumping in with both feet. The last jump I made into the unknown turned out pretty well.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Ethics or Duty?

There was an accident today. A five car fender bender in front of me as I drove home from work tonight. When I saw a young girl emerge from her car with her face, hands, and chest covered in blood, my mind flashed to the Ziploc bag filled with gloves, gauze, and other medical supplies in the back of my car and my foot hit the brakes.

There is something in some people, particularly in nurses, that makes us believe in these situations there is no other option but to help. Is it a sense of duty? I'm a nurse, its my job. Is it an ethical question? What if someone is seriously injured and I don't stop? Is it the training that is ingrained into us from the day we set foot in the classroom in nursing school? For those of us with the knowledge, skills, and training to assist in these situations, many times the question to act doesn't need to be debated, we simply do it on instinct.

After the excitement was over and I was driving home, I began to toss around a popular topic in my head. Since my back injury, one of my biggest struggles has been not being physically able to do my job but mentally wanting it more than anything. See, I became a nurse to take care of people. To bandage their wounds, give them medications, and sometimes provide treatment that could save their life. There is nothing that compares. When the doctors put strict restrictions on my activity level and pulled me away from bedside nursing, I was devastated. I asked them how I could ignore my primal instinct to nurse people. Being an IV therapy nurse, in a code situation I am one of the only people in the hospital with the ability to place a line quickly which will deliver essential medications that have the potential to bring a person back from the edge of death. Even with my restrictions written in black in white, life likes to play in the gray area. Patients, even staff members found themselves in situations around me requiring my specific set of skills. How can I walk away from that? How can my doctors ask me not to do what I know best? Even now, working out of the hospital in a separate building doing my new job, I'm still encountered with this dilemma, i.e. the bleeding woman on the side of the road today.

I held pressure on a head wound today. Gloves on, gauze in hand; I felt like a nurse again. Like I was doing what I was always meant for: helping people. It has been a while since I had that feeling.

The adrenaline rush was pretty great too.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Weather Nerds

On our first day in Duluth, we had quite a variety of weather conditions. Mom and I started our trip with a stop in our favorite park, Amnicon Falls in Superior, WI. With several sets of cascading falls, easy trails, and very few people, Amnicon Falls is a tradition every time we visit the area. The weather was sunny, few clouds, and in the 80's. We walked the trails, took in the falls, and hit the road again to keep making our way north to our final destination near Grand Marais, MN.

As we got closer to Duluth, it became harder and harder to see the road ahead. It took a minute to finally figure out what it was. Fog. Lots and lots of fog. As we headed over the bridge, all we could see was white. It enveloped the car. I glanced at the temperature reading on my dash and realized the temperature had dropped nearly twenty degrees in a matter of a few minutes! As we drove up the shore, the fog made for some stunning views of lighthouses perched on the rocks.
Like Split Rock Lighthouse, seen above. Not the photo I wanted, but I have yet to acquire a telephoto lens for Mark. That will be the next investment to drain my bank account! Once we made it to the hotel for the evening, we sat out on the deck overlooking the lake. Over the course of an hour, the clouds became more and more ominous. It was like nothing either of us had ever seen. At one point, the clouds melded together to form what looked like a giant wave, rumbling toward the shoreline.

More photos of the trip to the North shore to come, videos too if the blogger website decides to play nice and upload them! Also, an update on my pursuit of a masters degree and the first week of my new job.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The North First Love

I have been blessed to see many of the fascinating corners of this country. Between my leisure travel and my travel nursing career, I've been coast to coast. California was beautiful with its golden coastline and sweeping vistas. New York had its towering skyline and attitude in spades. Las Vegas had its own special appeal, nestling lots of entertainment and amazing architecture on the famous "strip." Pretty sure I don't need to profess my love of the New England states, as I've gushed about the area in this blog many, many times. But, one place has always had a special place in my heart, my favorite of all.

Duluth, Minnesota and the Lake Superior North Shore.

What?! Minnesota????

Yes, you read correctly. My favorite place is tucked away in the Midwest; a beautiful gem on the tip of the sparkling expanse of the worlds largest freshwater lake. Visiting Duluth was an annual tradition, up until last year when I was working in New Hampshire. This year, I got back on track and made the five hour drive directly North from La Crosse. Before I get into the details of the trip, I should give those of you who have never had the pleasure of seeing this beautiful area for yourself a few reasons why I love it as well as a few fun facts!

1. Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by area covering 31,700 miles (about the size of South Carolina) and the third largest by volume. The average depth is 483 feet with a maximum depth of 1,333 feet. The lake contains about 2,900 cubic miles of water. To put that in more visual terms: enough water to cover North and South America in about a foot of water. Yikes! The shoreline is comprised of 2,726 miles of rugged rocks, vista views, waterfalls, and sleepy fishing villages. The water in the glimmers in the sun, taking on a cobalt blue hue that is breathtaking. Although it is a popular lake for fishing, boating, and sailing, the water seldom rises about 40 degrees, so it makes for a cold swim year round.
2. There are over 200 rivers that feed the lake. With the high cliffs surrounding the lake, this makes for amazing hiking along the entire shoreline. This geography also produces some stunning waterfalls, many times hiding just a few yards off the highway.
3. The entire North shore is steeped in rich history which continues to permeate the modern culture today. The shipping industry is still a primary staple and many trading post sites where fur traders came to make a deal are still standing today.
4. The Superior Hiking trail, which spans 39 miles, boasts elevation changes, babbling stream beds, thundering waterfalls, and vista views. A hiker's dream.
5. The city of Duluth, while largely centered around the shipping and tourist industries, has a laid-back, college-like feel. An eco-conscious city, Duluth has many restaurants and local businesses that invest in preserving the natural beauty of the area. While you can get overwhelmed in the tourist areas with people visiting, getting off the beaten path has proved rewarding on each trip I've taken. I've stumbled upon an antique book store housed in a historic church, restaurants that grow their produce in the parking lot to help prevent run-off from entering the watershed, and farmers markets filled with local wares.

These are just a few of the reasons I love the North Shore and the city of Duluth. It is one thing to describe the beauty of this area, it is another to see it for yourself. Here are just a few photos from my latest trip, with more to come.

Vista overlooking the boundary waters leading into Canada.

See that little blue figure in the upper left corner? Yeah, that's a person. Gives you some perspective on how big these falls were!

I will post more photos and video from my trip in another post!