I didn't give up on my dream - it just evolved
Dreams change, people grow. There can be satisfaction in letting go and moving on. Circumstances of my life led me to places that I never would have chosen to go on my own. This is my story of how my dream started and then evolved along the way.I've known I wanted to be a nurse since I was in the 8th grade. Though my life has been far from perfect, if one looked at it exclusively from a nursing point of view, an outsider could easily conclude that I had everything I wanted. In high school, I was accepted to my first choice university's nursing program early action in December of my senior year. When I was job-searching my senior year of college, I applied for one and only one job and secured it without much hassle by mid-March. I had it all at the age of 23, right? Not exactly.
As with anything, there is more to this story than is immediately obvious. I remember the Friday that I received my acceptance letter to my university. It was, at that point, the best day of my life. I was flying high and, after a few rough years, it seemed things were finally going my way.
Fast forward a few weeks. After having a seizure in sleep, I was all of a sudden thrown into the medical world as a patient. After a profoundly abnormal EEG, I was started on an anti-epileptic and following a "routine" MRI, I was ultimately diagnosed with a low-grade brain tumor on the day before my 18th birthday. Becoming an adult got very real very fast.
Several months later, I had graduated from high school and was still planning on attending college in the fall, despite the fact that I was now having daily complex partial seizures. Towards the end of July, a doctor from whom I had sought a second opinion told me that I needed to have brain surgery "sooner rather than later." I was eighteen so, legally, this was my decision and, without really thinking of the consequences, I immediately responded that I would not have surgery until the following May, after I had completed my freshman year of college. I am, in retrospect, ultimately grateful for my adolescent mind-set and naiveté. I had no idea how difficult this year would be or the consequences of my decision but, in my heart, I knew that I needed this year. And I did.
To make a long story short, I completed my freshman year of college and had some of the most meaningful experiences of my life that year. I had successful brain surgery that May and thought I was ready to get back to "normal" life that fall. Turns out I wasn't and my mental health suffered severely that fall. When my mother picked me up to go home for a long weekend, I cried the whole way home, knowing somewhere inside of me that I wouldn't be coming back. At the advice of my Nurse Practitioner, I made the difficult decision when I was home that weekend to not return to school and to take some time off for myself. It wasn't a decision I wanted to make, but- as with deciding to complete my freshman year of college before having surgery- I knew in my heart that it was right.
When I returned to school the following fall, I was in a whole different mind-set. At the end of that summer, I had volunteered at a summer camp for children with epilepsy and, through working with them, I began to understand what my own illness had meant and would continue to mean to my life. My university was a Jesuit university and, though I am not religious by any means, the Jesuits did instill in me the importance of self-reflection. The following summer, I began volunteering with families of children with brain tumors and it seemed like the pieces of the puzzle were coming together. I had a good outcome and I had to believe that there was some sense to be made out of what had happened to me. The only way I could make sense of it was to believe that the reason that I got sick and then well again is so that I could be there for families who were also going through it. And that's when I decided- I would work in neurology, neurosurgery and neuro-oncology when I graduated. I always knew I wanted pediatrics (every job I've ever had since I was 14 involved working with children) and working with children with epilepsy and brain tumors in a volunteer capacity led me to believe that working with them in a professional capacity was what I was meant to do.
I completed both my pediatric clinical and preceptorship at the local pediatric hospital on their neuroscience floor and had no difficulty securing a job there. In fact, it was just as I was preparing to send my resume to pediatric hospitals in other areas of the country that my preceptor introduced me to the director of the floor who more or less told me she would hire me. (A sign that it was "meant to be".) When I was offered the job, I was as ecstatic as I had been when I received my acceptance letter to my university 5 years earlier. I accepted the position immediately, I even remember telling the recruiter "I don't need to think about it" when she called to offer me the job.
I loved my job at the beginning, believing in my heart that this was the population of patients I was meant to work with. The longer I was at this hospital, however, the more I began to see the ugly side of the institution. I still loved the patient population, but I began to like my job less and less to the point where I began to dread going into work every day. Every day wasn't met with patients whose journey I could influence but with anxiety over "what will I get yelled at for today?" Will I be yelled at for not taking 20 minutes out of my day to go hunting for a computer so that I can scan this patient's Tylenol or will I be yelled at because I did go looking for a computer (because I got yelled at yesterday for not scanning said Tylenol) and the tracking device that they use to monitor nurses' time at the bedside has revealed that we (nurses) "waste" too much time doing things that don't add value to patient care? Will I be yelled at because I didn't break sterile technique while changing a patient's PICC line dressing to respond to this tracking device or will I be yelled at because I responded to it in a patient's room (as instructed) and then the family complained that my "cell phone" (tracking device) was going off in the middle of the night?
Every day I left work thinking "I should quit nursing to go work at a grocery store." And then I began to think, "Why am I here?" I began working in pediatric neuroscience so I could take care of children and support their families through their illness journeys. But it seemed like I was able to do that less and less as I was forced to be more concerned with things like scanning barcodes and answering tracking devices than I was with patient care. I get that documentation is important and I don't have a problem with safety measures such as medication scanning, but I did have a problem when it became the be-all, end-all of nursing at this particular institution. Every so often, a poster of the "top 100 scanners" in the institution would be posted. The message was clear- the nurses who scan the most meds are the best nurses in our eyes. I mentally quit my job one day last October because of this. After a staff meeting that focused on medication scanning above all else, I left work thinking "I am done working for an institution that thinks that whether or not I have access to a functioning computer is any measure of what kind of nurse I am."
For a while, I foolishly believed that I could influence this institution's policies in some way. When my friends asked me if I was planning to leave, my answer was always "I'd like to stay, I like the patients I work with and I want to be able to influence change." I even told my manager several times that I thought that if everyone who cared enough to speak up left, that would just perpetuate the problem. I still believe that but, as I had made a decision that I didn't really want to make 8 years earlier when I left school for a year for the sake of my health, I had to make my mental health my priority. I wasn't happy and that mattered above all else. I felt that my spirit was dying working for this institution and, having lived as a body without a spirit for a period of time in college, I knew that was a life I couldn't live.
As I had listened to my heart with the most significant decisions I had made in my life up to that point (post-poning surgery, leaving school for a year, accepting this job), it was time to listen to my heart again and my heart was telling me it was time to move on. Every time I thought about it, I came back to the same decision- which told me that it was the right decision. The only thing that had held me back from leaving for the past year was the patients. Weren't these the patients I was meant to work with? Hadn't years of self-reflection in college led me to determine that? I had continued to volunteer with children with epilepsy and brain tumors over the years and I knew I could maintain that connection and that, often times, that was a better connection than I'd ever had with families in the hospital.
I accepted a job in home care with pediatric patients who were referred primarily from my former hospital. I felt that this would be good move for me. I knew I wanted to stay in pediatrics but knew that community-based care would be a better fit for me, as would working for a smaller company. The Case Manager I'd worked with inpatient had told me the agency I now work for was the agency that she prefers to refer patients in my area to so I'll still get to work with the same patient population, just in a different environment.
Though part of me was sad to leave my first job- my "dream" job from 5 years ago- the bigger part of me realized that I didn't give up on my dream, my dream just evolved as I grew as a nurse.Last edit by Joe V on Apr 22, '12
About KelRN215, BSN, RN
Pediatric nurse, brain tumor survivor- loving life and living it to the fullest!
Joined: Oct '10; Posts: 7,044; Likes: 15,430Apr 22, '12first of all, let me congratulate you on never giving up, and broadening your horizons. needless to say, very enlightening and insightful post for those contemplating on career changes. wishing you the very best in all of your future endeavors...aloha~Apr 22, '12Ah, when the dream is evolving, it can seem more like a nightmare. Thanks for the reminder to look at the hopeful side of things; this is very timely for me.Apr 22, '12Nurses are resilient people. For us it is 'no retreat, no surrender!'Last edit by Joe V on Dec 5, '12 : Reason: removed long quoteMay 2, '12Your story is amazing, and I applaud your bravery and dedication to yourself, and to nursing. One of my favorite things about being a nurse is that there are so many different opportunities available within the field, and those opportunities change and evolve so often, too. The educational opportunities, career choices and even the rapidly changing field of medicine itself are all such fantastic ways to learn one's own strengths, and give back to others.
Congratulations on following your dream, and continuing to be an inspiration to us all!Jun 27, '12Thank you so much for sharing your story! I myself was diagnosed with MS within a week of my 18th birthday *it was a few days before or after... I'm not sure which* and have had a hard battle with that since. So, now even as a single mother I have decided to go with my dream I never thought I could possibly do after being diagnosed... I'm becoming a nurse! Your story is an inspiration for me! Though we have many battles we have to go through in our life, following our hearts is the best thing we can do! =)Jul 24, '12This very nice description of a person seeking their self-value in the world. Some people allow regular society expectations to consume the real life they want to live. The consent set-up of having a point of view in living in to another country can cause a different change of mindset. Help, you to explore what was taken for granted in whole different country has taught you to appreciate. Give thanks to being surrounded by nature & giving you zest on life has advance your ability to realize. The most important things in life, don’t have consider as just a college professional structured, but taking aware of outside of the small things we hold, so small.Last edit by Joe V on Dec 5, '12 : Reason: removed linkJan 1, '13*Hugs* welcome to evolving into making your nursing path in your own terms !! I celebrate your resiliency as well.