As part of the 2017 Nurses Week celebration, our Vice President of Leadership Excellence, Suzanne Miller, shared her personal story about what led her to a career in nursing.
When I was 20 years old, I fell 30 feet off a roof onto a concrete sidewalk. I was in college and, as some college kids are prone to, I was up to no good. I came to in the Emergency Room with what seemed like a million people buzzing around me asking questions, poking and prodding, and alarms beeping everywhere.
The looks on the faces of the nurses, paramedics, doctors, and respiratory therapist told me everything I needed to know. Things were not looking good for me. Fast forward one year and, by the grace of God and countless selfless caregivers, my families and friends, I was in one piece and living a relatively normal life of a college senior. I had endured 10 surgeries, had my jaw wired shut twice, experienced a post-surgical broken plate in my arm, lost over 25% of my body weight and contracted a staph infection. Many people ask me, “Was this experience what made you become a nurse?” Surprising to some, the answer is, “No, not at the time.”
I was studying business back then and fully believed I would be a career business person, traveling the globe brokering multi-million dollar deals. While I enjoyed modest success in the business world, it wasn’t until 10 years after my accident, when I became pregnant with my first child, that I began to wonder what I was doing with my life. While my paychecks were nice, I felt I had no meaning or purpose in the work I was doing. I remembered all the people who had so thoughtfully taken care of me after my accident. I remember the nurse who showed me a mirror for the first time eight days after my accident, only to have to console me for hours due to my disfigurement. I remember the male nurse who won my trust after days of not letting him help me to the bathroom. I remember the nurse in the ICU who would hold my hand and dried my tears when my ventilator was suctioned out. I remember the nurse who called my distraught parents to tell them the news of my accident and how she truly touched our lives.
So one day, I came home from work and told my (now ex) husband, “I want to be a nurse.” He thought I was insane and insisted, rightly so, that I take a series of intermediate steps before I applied to nursing school. I became a “cuddler volunteer” at the local NICU where I shadowed a friend of mine who was a PACU nurse, read about nursing, and watched a lot of ER (kidding on the last one). I confidently told him that I had made my decision and was going to be a nurse.
When I told people what I was planning, I was shocked by the responses. “Just a nurse?” “Is that a stepping stone to becoming a doctor?” “Gross, I don’t think I could handle all the body fluids.” “Why would you want a new job, you have a great job?”
The (unsolicited) comments continued, but I was determined. I applied to school and was accepted.
I loved nursing school. I loved the science behind it. I loved how difficult it was, and I remember thinking how much knowledge nurses have. I loved the comradery with my nursing student peers. I loved the late nights at Starbucks studying for Anatomy and Physiology with a 10-inch stack of notecards. I loved my clinical rotations, even though I horrified one preceptor by squirting an IV medication into a cup…. presumably to have the patient drink it? Luckily, I redeemed myself and was actually offered a job on that unit! I digress…
My first years in nursing were a mixture of joy, tears, excitement, elation, sorrow, exhaustion, and fear. One thing kept me going, even on the most difficult shifts – my patients. I would have done just about anything for my patients, as I felt honored to be a part of the most vulnerable times in people’s lives. I felt it was a gift to witness healing and an even greater gift to witness one passing from this world. I felt a profound sense of importance in the work that I accomplished and strived to be a better nurse every day, as the lives of my patients depended on it. Over the years, I have been promoted out of the bedside.
I have held several leadership roles and am now at HealthLinx, in a job that I absolutely love, but I am far, far from the bedside. Do I miss it? Absolutely. Do I still feel like I have an important role for patients? Absolutely – Now more so than ever before.
I get to work with nursing leaders across all service lines to impact hospital culture through nursing and patient satisfaction. I get to see firsthand how these transformations improve quality and patient experience, and I know that this work touches many more nurses and patients than I ever could on my own. If I didn’t think I was making a difference, I would not do this job.
Nurses are special. We put our patients, our colleagues, and our families first. We will stay long after a shift to make sure we have crossed our t’s and dotted our i’s. We cry in the bathroom so we can show a brave face to our patients. We will put up with the worst behavior from patients, and sometimes doctors and our peers, yet we will get up and come in and do it all over the next day. Why? Because we are nurses and people are counting on us. Our communities are counting us. And one day we will count on our fellow nurses to care for us. So we must, as a profession, find the strength and courage to come back every day and make a difference.
That is what Nurses Week is about. It is an opportunity to celebrate the sacrifice, knowledge, compassion, and tireless efforts of nurses. We don’t make the most money in the world, but what we do is priceless. I am proud and honored to be a nurse and every day am awed by the accomplishments of my fellow nurses.