Photo courtesy of Lauren Axelrod
Lauren, a nurse from Portland, OR, left the dot-com world for medicine – first as a paramedic, then as a nurse. She speaks out on making the leap of faith, what makes a good nurse, and how nurses can help protect themselves from burnout.
Why did you become a nurse?
I became a nurse because after five years as a paramedic on an ambulance, I began to feel like there wasn’t a diversity of career options in the field of paramedicine. So for two more years I continued to work full time as a paramedic while I went to nursing school, and through the exposure of different nursing jobs in nursing school clinical rotations I became acutely aware that the field of nursing was even wider and deeper than I ever could have imagined.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a nurse?
The commonality I find in people who are interested in nursing and want advice are that they have already graduated from school of some sort, have a job, and they are afraid to make the change. Go on online forums, talk to nurses in person – ask them where they went to school and ask their thoughts on the program. Do research on schools because they are not all equal.
Locate the schools that you want to apply to, look at their prerequisite requirements, and take one or two classes online each semester while still working. Continue to do this until you are able to apply for the school and then apply. Be aware that you will have sacrifices along the way, but stay focused on why you are making these sacrifices. Working on an ambulance 40 hours a week and attending nursing school nights and weekends was extremely difficult, but it was worth it in the long run.
Sometimes people recommend that potential nurses shadow nurses in roles that they think they would like, to get an idea if they really would like it. I tried this, but it didn’t work for me as I was expecting to feel some connection to that particular job that I observed. It just confused me more as the entire change became a leap of faith. In nursing school you get far more time and exposure to different areas – take that time to figure out where you ideally want to go after school.
What’s your favorite part about being a nurse?
Meeting and being able to connect with people that I never would have encountered in my life otherwise. I was part of a medical trip to Rwanda a couple of years ago and having the privilege to work with the hospital staff and the patients there was a gift beyond words. We were thanked for coming to help, but it felt like I was cheating by accepting thanks as I received far, far more than I gave.
What are the most important traits of being a good nurse?
I think it depends on the area that you work in – for example, critical care requires you to be very detail-oriented. Emergency medicine requires you to be efficient with your time. Overall, good nurses work well with a wide variety of people – it really is a team that you are on, which includes the patient and their loved ones (this is often forgotten in health care). Everyone on the team may be approaching the issue with different views and/or different goals, and a nurse needs to be astute enough to pick up on this and work with it, but also to be the voice for those on the team who have a valid message that isn’t getting heard.
What self-care do you recommend for your fellow nurses?
This is so, so important yet so contrary to the culture with health care providers as a whole. As a paramedic it was always drilled into our heads to not enter a scene that wasn’t safe, because if we became hurt then we couldn’t help who we came to help. However, no one talked about the burnout from not prioritizing our own health, which leads health care providers becoming functioning alcoholics, diverting drugs, committing suicide – it is all very real and sadly I have former co-workers that have done all of these things.
Photo courtesy of Lauren Axelrod
You have to find a sustainable, healthy behavior that lifts you up and make it a priority in your schedule. For me it was running. For others it may be knitting. Meditation or yoga works for a lot of people, though I struggle at both. But it should be something that gives you time away from medicine, is something that you finish being glad you did it, and assigns time that is solely to you. Look at Sarah Sellers – she is a nurse anesthetist that placed second in the 2018 Boston Marathon. While I don’t suggest everyone do a training run at 4am, she is proof that you can make something outside of work a priority in your life and still be a high quality health care provider. You can’t afford not to, nor can your patients.