Job: Cardiac ICU Nurse, Registered Nurse (RN)
Location: Dallas, Texas
Taylor and I were connected through Binna, a high school friend of her's and my interview from a few months ago who is working in Dallas, too, as a buyer for Neiman Marcus. I don’t know how Taylor does it with her crazy hours, but hearing about her experience as a nurse thus far is both motivating and eye-opening to me, specifically since I am not in this field. In this interview, we talk about what it takes to be a nurse, how tough you really are, and what to do if you are thinking about working towards a similar career path.
Give us a little background and tell us how you ended up in Texas.
So I am currently a Cardiac ICU Nurse at the Children’s Hospital in Dallas, so I work with really sick babies. I was in school at The University of Oklahoma (OU) for five years working on my prerequisites and applying to nursing school, which is two years long, and I graduated in May of 2018. I am originally from Dallas, so coming back was always an option for me.
What made you decide on nursing? How did you end up in the Cardiac ICU?
I came into college knowing that I wanted to do nursing, but I really didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into. I’ve always been more of a math-science brain, and I enjoy helping people, so I thought I would end up in the medical realm. It’s actually what got me to go to OU since I knew they had a really strong nursing program. The only way I can describe nursing school is that you really have no life except studying, though I really did enjoy everything I learned. Even though it was super tough, and a very long two years, it was great being around people who also had a passion for the same things that I did.
Tell us about the program you are in and what that process looks like.
They tell you when you graduate nursing school to pick an area of nursing that is going to give you a lot of experience, and that you can take anywhere after you get a few years under your belt. ICU was an area I knew would give me a wide range of skills, so I ended up in cardiac. There is this general idea that there is a shortage of nurses in the United States, which is true, but to be a graduate nurse, there is a limited amount of jobs. That being said, I pretty much applied to every hospital in Dallas you could apply to coming out of nursing school. The reason it is extremely competitive to get a job is because you don’t have a lot of experience, so hospitals don’t want to take that on. Really big hospitals tend to have nurse residency programs, which is sort of like how doctors go through a residency, so it’s the same idea. My residency program is one year long and I am working full time, but I am also taking classes through the hospital to graduate from the residency program. It can be tough to balance school and then go through my shifts for the week, but it allows you to get that experience so that when the program is over after a year, hospitals are more likely to hire you. I started in July of 2018, so I will graduate from the residency program in July of 2019.
What does your schedule look like?
Typically hospital nurses work three-twelve hour shifts, which sounds really nice, and it is, but those can be long shifts. We typically do get four days off, but then I go back to back, working three twelve hours and that can be pretty rough. Your sleep schedule gets pretty messed up, and you need those four days to recover. I’m still trying to work out the kinks of my schedule. Usually, after a night shift, which is 7pm to 7am, I’ll get back to my place around 8am. I’ll try to take a shower and go to bed until 1pm and then eat another meal and get ready to go in for my shift that evening.
What does your social life look like with your crazy schedule?
It’s pretty enjoyable on the days I am not working. The last two years that I have been in nursing school, I didn’t really have much of a life other than studying.
How do you detach yourself from what you see every day in your job?
I don’t think I ever leave it at work. I think there is always something running through my head. I really struggled with it at the beginning, and after my first day, I just came home and cried, thinking that I couldn’t do it. My parents told me to give it a few months and to be honest, I didn't even want to do that at times. The patients I have in my unit are the sickest patients you can get so it can be really hard to see the families going through such hard things. Most of my patients are under one year old, so they basically come out of the womb and are sent right to us. A lot of the time, they can’t breathe on their own and they are just in really bad shape. It’s our job to either keep them alive long enough where we can grow them to get big enough where they can have surgery, or we just try to keep them comfortable. You never really know, going into a shift, what will happen. Your patient can go down the drain so fast, and it can be terrifying. Your adrenaline is very high and you want to save them from dying, so every day, you always have that in the back of your mind going into such a high-stress environment like that. They tell you before you walk into your patients’ room and know their diagnosis, you need to think about the worst thing that can happen to your patient and you need to know that it can actually happen. It is hard for me not to take that home. The burnout rate is very high because of just how mentally draining it can be, but it can be really rewarding when you save lives. So to answer your question, I don’t think I ever leave work at work.
What is your favorite part of your work?
My favorite part of my job, hands down, is seeing sick patients recover. The hard part is definitely the stress of the unknown in what can happen to your day. It is always exciting, always scary, but it is very fascinating to learn all about different heart defects. No patient comes in with the same heart when they come into the unit, so you have to learn your patient’s heart, which I think is pretty cool. You draw it out on a piece of paper, and you draw out the blood flow, whatever surgeries they have had and how that changes their blood flow, and then know what to look for.
What has been the most surprising thing about being a nurse?
You get really surprised in cases where we have patients who are listed for heart transplants, and we think they’ll be waiting a long time, but then four hours later, they have a heart. For me, personally, I am surprised by how much autonomy the nurses on the floor have. I don't have experience in other units, but I can definitely tell on my floor, the nurses are basically the frontline for the patients. They are the ones who are the patient advocates and call the doctor when something goes down or doesn’t look right. No one else has eyes on the patient all day. That really caught me by surprise learning how much I’d be in charge and how much of the patients’ care would be in my hands. Because of this, nurses tell the doctors what needs to be done because we are the ones who see when something happens in the room. Even though doctors make the medical calls, we are the ones who are telling them what we think needs to happen or be prescribed, and they typically follow that.
What would you say to someone interested in pursuing nursing as a career?
To become a nurse in general, you have to definitely be ready to put in the work for nursing school. When you are actually a nurse, I think it is a really rewarding job. Now that I am one, I am kind of surprised at how much nurses are respected. I actually saw a story on the news that nurses are the number one trusted profession, which I think really speaks volumes. I think if someone genuinely cares about other people and wants to help them get better better, and they can handle blood, they could definitely look into nursing and consider it as a profession. There are so many pathways you can go into as a nurse, so if you don't like one unit, you can switch to a completely different one. You can go from pediatric to geriatric; there is really no limit to what you can do.
What have you learned about yourself since starting this profession?
I have learned that I am a lot tougher than I thought and that I can push myself. I remember coming home after that first day thinking I absolutely can't do this, and you just get over that hump and tell yourself you’re going to take it day by day. Several months later, I know I can do this and it just surprises me with how far I have come. It is something I didn’t think I could handle, and I’m watching myself do this. The other thing is you learn that you’re really not alone on the floor. Other nurses always jump in to help if I need it, so that is really comforting to have that support.
The YoPro Know's Takeaways:
- You are tougher than you think and you always have the ability to push yourself
- It is hard to leave this type of work at work sometimes; you have to be okay with that
- Be prepared for the outcomes that may or may not happen (in any position)