Nurse Johanne lives in central Texas and currently works at research hospital where she says she is “seeing things that most neuroscience nurses only read about.”
She received a two-year ADN (assoiate’s degree) from a local community college and told us, “Texas has a vibrant and high-quality community college system for RN qualification, so much so that bachelor’s degrees often concentrate more on nursing administration rather than bedside care. That leaves the ADN programs for those who want to work bedside, which I did.”
Johanne graduated from school in 2002.
As someone who decided to become a nurse 10 years after they graduated high school, how did you make the decision to go back to school to start this new career?
I went back ten years after I graduated *college*, if you can believe it. I had been working at Planned Parenthood for some time as a health educator and realized that I was better at that than at anything else I’d been doing before.
I had always had an interest in science and health, so going back to school seemed a natural fit. I remember making the decision when I thought to myself “There’s more to know, and I want to know it.”
Were there any individuals who were an influence?
Gracious, yes. I worked with a lot of nurses and several doctors who’d been nurses prior to going to med school. One of the most influential people was a nurse I’d worked closely with for several years, named Cindy. She had gone to nursing school straight out of high school and had had a number of different experiences as a nurse before becoming a nurse practitioner. I got a lot of advice and encouragement from her when I started school and as I continued.
Did any of your previous jobs help prepare you for what you do now?
Planned Parenthood, definitely. Because I was working with a young, mostly poor population, I had a lot of work to do that involved educating people on chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure. I also did a lot of sexual health education, most of which involved busting myths and presenting facts in a clear, easy-to-understand, non-frightening manner. The work at PP helped me hone both my mad educating skills and my sense of humor in the face of stress.
Once you decided you wanted to become a nurse, how did you plan on
what nursing school to attend?
The primary factor was the school’s ranking, both in terms of national surveys and in terms of local reputation. I decided to get an associate’s (two-year) degree for two reasons: First, the nursing programs offered by ADN schools focused more on bedside nursing and less on management.
Second, the closest school offering a BSN refused to take any of the humanities, arts, or language credits I had so painfully acquired, simply because–get this–the course numbers didn’t match. I wanted a program that would recognize the strengths that I had as a returning student and that would allow me to use what I’d learned in getting my BA and in the work world.
How important were: Location – Cost – Degree – Reputation – Ranking – Grade Requirements
Honestly? Most programs here in Texas have very high grade requirements and cost about the same. The differences between programs in those respects were quite minimal. Reputation and ranking were, as I mentioned before, the big issues: I wanted a program that was tough, well-respected, and turned out well-trained and flexible new nurses.
As far as location went, given that I live pretty much in the middle of nowhere, all of ‘em sucked about the same. Luckily for me, gas was still hovering in the $1.25 range when I started!
How difficult was your nursing education?
I took a BA in music with an emphasis in performance and a BA in sociology. I took 24 hours every semester except one, and made the dean’s list every semester except one. I graduated magna cum laude with my bachelor’s degree from a small school with pretty darn high standards.
That said, getting a nursing degree was the hardest two years’ work I have ever done in my life.
There’s no way to adequately prepare anybody for how much work and concentration getting an RN will take. It completely takes over your life, and it *has* to be that way. Even if you take a four-year, BSN degree, the nursing core stuff is only during the last two years. And there’s a huge amount to know: nursing is now, in terms of education, where medical education was just after the advent of antibiotics. Things change really, really fast and the basics are hard enough to learn.
Do you feel you were adequately prepared at nursing school for your current job responsibilities?
Oh, hells yeah. The thing that nursing students lose sight of is this: all you have to know is anatomy, physiology, pathology, and the basics of what’s normal. The hospital you work in will train you to the specialty you choose (that is, if they’re a decent hospital).
The most important things to learn as a student nurse are time management (I know, I know; everybody yaps about that, but it’s true) and assessment. Everything else you’ll pick up and get to practice every day. As far as being tough, flexible, and able to ingest enormous amounts of information really quickly, my program prepared me very, very well. (Makes me sound like a Hefty bag…) Time management I already had.
How did you decide on a two year associate’s degree?
I wanted a degree from a place that saw my classical education and previous work experience as a positive rather than a negative, and I sure as heck didn’t want to spend the next four years (which is what it would’ve taken) and umpteen ga zillion dollars getting something I could get in half the time at a quarter of the price.
You are currently working at a research hospital. How is your work different from working at a typical hospital?
The day-to-day parts of the job, like wiping butts and passing meds, are exactly the same as they are in any other hospital. One of the main differences is in the amount of education I do with patients. Because we do research in neuroscience, we see a lot of really bizarre things that nobody’s ever heard of and can’t pronounce when they do.
Normal, healthy people suddenly end up having a seizure, a la Ted Kennedy, and are diagnosed with a brain tumor. Even if the tumor isn’t fatal, the whole situation is terrifying for both the patient and their family. My job is to put the medicalese they hear from the doctors into English, explain what their treatment will entail, and try to calm their fears the best way I can.
Can you tell us a little bit about being a neuroscience nurse and what you do?
Hmm. Being a neuroscience nurse involves dealing with people who are going in to or recovering from surgery, as well as with people who have genetic conditions or diseases like MS, that come out of nowhere. I see everything from people with spontaneous CJD (not mad-cow disease) to spinal-cord injuries to people who just need a disc dealt with in their lower back. The scope is broad, the work is interesting, and there’s something new every day. If you’re not learning a new thing every shift, you’re asleep.
Mostly, from the nursing nitty-gritty side, I make sure people are comfortable (surgery hurts!) and not having any new neurological changes or problems. This can be a bit of a balancing act, as neuro changes are subtle and the margin for error very slim indeed. That means that I have to keep a close eye on folks, and that they’re pretty high acuity. I’m busy most of the day.
What advice would you give someone thinking of entering nursing school?
Resign yourself to the fact that you will have no life for two years. Seriously. But! It’s totally, totally beyond worth-it.
What questions should they be asking themselves?
It’s important to be honest with yourself. If you have doubts about being a nurse, ask yourself what the deal-breakers would be: watching people die? Dealing with jerks on a daily basis? The possibility of catching something incurable from a needle stick?
Also, ask yourself if you’re having *fun*. If you’re not having fun in school (as in “Gee that’s cool, I’m so glad I know that” fun, not swinging-from-the-ceiling fun) you’re in the wrong business. Being a nurse is a lot like being in school all the time.
And, finally, anybody who’s willing to take on this commitment needs to be certain that it’s a calling. You can be a good nurse without having a calling, but it makes your life harder if you’re not looking forward to going to work every morning. I remember finally feeling like I’d found my place in the world and that everything was coming together. True, it didn’t happen until I’d been a nurse for about a year (which is typical), but the whole time I was in training, I had the feeling that that was coming.
What can they do to prepare themselves for their studies?
The most important things are, first, that your family understands that you’re not really going to be there for a couple of years. Even if you’re physically present during training (which, often, you won’t be), you’ll be somewhere else mentally. Family needs to understand the stress levels involved and the amount of time it takes to do well in training. I cannot stress this enough. Without a supportive husband, I would never have made it.
Second, you have to understand that you yourself are going to change. Take a look at the last-semester nursing students you see and at the nurses you train under, and understand that that will be you very soon. Nurses have a particular ingrained personality: they tell you something once and move on, they have intense, focused intelligence, and they do not screw around in a crisis. You may swear now that you’ll never be that way, but you will. (Now I feel like Yoda.)
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now in your career?
RULING THE NEUROSCIENCE WORLD WITH AN IRON FIST.
*koff* Sorry. In ten years, I plan to be doing bedside nursing still, perhaps a bit more efficiently and with a little less ignorance. I would really, really like to get into preceptoring new nurses, so that’ll be something I’ll be doing. I may even do a little office work on the side; who knows? It all depends on how long my shoulders and back hold out.