Update: A Unique Perspective on Nursing
When her daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, Mary never expected to find a new career path. After witnessing the dedication of the Hospital Heroes caring for her daughter, she was inspired to join the medical profession herself. We sat down with Mary to learn more about her journey to a nursing career and how her daughter's caregivers changed her life.
Your initial inspiration to enter the field of nursing was your experience during your daughter’s treatment. As you spend more time nursing, what other experiences or elements of your work continue to motivate you?
I am motivated not only by my colleagues, because of their dedication to their patients, but I am also motivated by the patients and the families every day that are going through some of the most difficult times of their lives.
It's not always sadness and heartache, there are a lot of smiles and happy things going on here.
The bond that I have between me and my families, not just my patients, is what drives me and keeps me coming back here and knowing that I am making a difference.
Do you still work with the same physicians who helped treat your daughter?
Yes. It’s been an amazing opportunity to work with them on this side of the nurse’s station—to be able to talk to them about our patients and the care that they need.
They often refer to me when there is a new diagnosis or if there is a parent that may be having a difficulty. They will call me in and will want me to be there with the parent and the patient. I can give them a glimmer of hope and let them know that they can get through it.
Families come to you during times of stress, concern, and perhaps even fear. How do you use your own experience to relate to your young patients and their parents?
I can sit along with them and talk to them about my own experience and give them some sort of hope. I have an opportunity to share what not many people have experienced and can share.
There are questions you don’t really talk about with your nurses, or even sometimes social workers, because people don’t feel comfortable talking about it unless they are able to talk to somebody who has been through it, like myself.
Before you began a career in nursing, what was your career path? Had you ever thought this was a possibility for you?
Before I started in nursing, I actually had several different professions and occupations. Out of high school I went into chemistry and actually was a chemist. I tested water and wastewater for heavy metals.
After moving [to West Palm Beach, Florida], I continued that career path and found an interest in interior design. I went to school for interior design and then became a small business owner and entrepreneur. I had a retail home decor store. We were in business for probably three years before my daughter was diagnosed.
The medical field had never been even an option for me. No one I knew was a nurse or doctor. Nobody in my family had any kind of medical inclination at all. I never liked hospitals and didn’t like to think about being admitted or especially any of my children having to be admitted to the hospital.
After being here for my daughter’s treatment, and having to spend extended periods here, I came to know and love many of my nurses who are my colleagues now. Sometimes they are your only source of conversation, and sometimes they are the only ones who can even relate to what you are going through and give you some kind of hope as you’re going through difficult treatment with your child.
I came to know and love many of my nurses who are my colleagues now.
Ironically, my older daughter, who is 18 and going off to college, wants to go into medical research into nanotechnology. She wants to be able to provide some sort of input into future cancer treatments.
What was your journey like to get into nursing?
Over my years and life, I learned my path always opened up for me. As those doors opened, I don’t question those paths and doors, I walk through them. Everything always seems to fall into place as it should. Nothing was a struggle. It wasn’t a choice I questioned along the way.
I received my acceptance letter on the same day we held a blood drive for my daughter at her elementary school. Every sign along the way just seemed to be pointing me down this one path.
The only time I questioned my career choice was when I had to come to [the oncology] floor. I started out on pediatrics on another floor and when I came to this floor to do some computer training I went to the bathroom. There’s something about the smell in the bathroom that’s not on any of the other floors. I just stood there and cried for five or 10 minutes and wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to come out and compose myself. After coming here onto the unit, more and more I felt more comfortable here and know that this is my home and where I am meant to be.
What advice can you give to any parent who is facing a potential or confirmed cancer diagnosis for their child?
Well there’s a couple of things. First, never give up hope. There is always hope. I see parents here who take their child to other countries, or across the country, for treatment and never, ever give up hope.
And also, my advice to the families is to accept help, which is hard, because a lot of families are used to giving people help. They are used to assisting other people. But to accept help and actually ask for help is very hard to do. For them to know it’s ok—not everybody can be the giver all the time. Sometimes you have to sit back and let people take care of you.
Never give up hope. There is always hope.
What’s the most exciting advancement you’ve seen—or are looking forward to seeing soon—in your field?
A treatment called monoclonal antibodies. The difference between monoclonal antibody and a standard chemotherapy is that chemotherapy wipes out the immune system and the body’s ability to fight off infection. It also has a systemic side effect on the patient. They feel it from head to toe.
Many of these new treatments are targeted treatments, like the monoclonal antibody treatment. It goes directly to the tumor site and helps your body build an immunity. Rather than putting in a chemical that is going to destroy cells, we’re actually training the immune system to fight cancer.
That is the most exciting thing because when they leave here they don’t leave nauseous and immunosuppressed. They leave here and they don’t feel bad at all. That’s the most exciting thing—to be able to see the patient walk out the door and not have that fear of chemotherapy that many patients have. Even young patients fear chemotherapy because they know how it makes them feel.
What advice do you have for people who may be considering a career switch to nursing?
The one beautiful thing about nursing is that it’s not only nursing at the bedside where you get to make an immediate difference with patients and their families. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes, including nursing educators who get to make a difference.
When I was going through nursing school, one of my nursing educators told me one of the reasons she went from bedside nursing to teaching. When she’s a bedside nurse she can affect five to six patients a day, but when she’s a teacher she can affect 100 nurses that will have an effect on six patients a day. It’s a multiplied opportunity to be able to make a difference in patients’ lives from the very beginning, including teaching.
Today, I’m actually working with the research department. We here at St. Mary’s are a part of the Children’s Oncology group. We try to make sure every patient diagnosed has access to the latest research available and the latest treatments available. We learn something new every day about cancer and we want our patients to have that.
Any more advice for those considering a career in the medical field?
As far as nursing goes, I know many people—when they look into nursing programs—they get overwhelmed by what is required of them. I went back to school in my late 30s as a third career. A lot of people may think it’s too late for them or they may feel like they can't handle it financially or mentally.
I have to say, I think I’m a better nurse now than if I had tried to be a nurse earlier in my life. I have more experiences. I’m a mother. I have more common sense than I did when I was younger. I think that I provide, to my patients, an opportunity to have my experiences. So I can talk to some of my patients how I would to my children. I can say, “I think you need to get up and walk down the hall now.” Where, maybe when I was younger, I may not have been so expressive about my patients and what I think they need to be doing.
There is so much available now in terms of financial aid aInd going back to school. Just take one class at a time, and you will get to your goal. It just all takes time. I’m continuing my education and I have three classes left for my bachelor’s degree. Then from there, maybe Nurse Practitioner, we’ll see.
Health care is an exciting place to be. There are always so many changes, especially in nursing. There are always so many opportunities for nurses. It’s not just at the bedside anymore. It’s not just one job. It’s a million.
Health care is an exciting place to be. It's not just one job. It's a million.
I’ve precepted for nursing students coming out of their bachelor's program. I’ve also precepted nurses orienting to chemotherapy training. I give them an idea of what the families are going through in life.
For instance, I had a CNA [Certified Nursing Assistant] come to me one day and say “That family in that room, they have not been really nice this morning.” So I kind of had to give her some perspective. You are taking care of them at the worst possible time of their life. They are not going to be nice all the time. Their focus is that their world has been turned upside down. She took a different perspective from it and she thanked me for it.
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Mary never expected her daughter's illness to lead her on a new career path to patient care. Read Mary's Story