I made my way into my downtown Philadelphia office, pouring my first cup of coffee before I sat down to browse my patient schedule for the upcoming day. As my co-workers began to trickle in, I listened to several voicemails from the prior evening. One patient had spent the night in the ER for what she thought was possible pre-term labor -- I made a note to have the front desk schedule her for a follow-up visit. Another patient complained that at two weeks postpartum, she hadn't yet received her breast pump from Medicaid. I then opened my inbox, where I found labs waiting to be reviewed. A patient had failed her three hour glucose test, so I made a quick note to schedule her for a gestational diabetes consultation with our educator. My day was off to a running start before the clock had even struck 8AM.
As a busy OB/GYN RN and Health Educator, I chose to work with underserved populations well before I entered nursing school. I specifically attended the University of Pennsylvania because of the opportunities available to work with diverse urban populations and truly make a difference in their care. When I graduated and was offered a position to work at a low income clinic in downtown Philadelphia, I was ecstatic at the opportunity to provide unbiased, top quality care to one of our country's most vulnerable populations. Many of my patients came from extreme poverty and had several children before they turned 20. Many had experienced a life of pain and abuse, and most wondered how they would be able to support themselves and their unborn children. Sometimes when my patients would enter my office, I could almost feel the weight on their shoulders and see the visible defeat in their eyes. It was then that would let them in on a little secret -- I had been there.
It was 2004, and I had just turned 17 years old. I should have been celebrating with friends, planning college visits, or registering for SATs. Instead, I was staring down at two tiny blue lines, numb with fear about how my life was going to change. I still had over a year left of high school -- how was I going to finish? I had no idea how I'd be able to afford childcare or diapers, let alone a college education.
My love of nursing and healthcare essentially began before I even delivered my daughter. I saw a Nurse Practitioner throughout my prenatal care, and she never once shamed me for being a pregnant teen. When I learned that she would not be the one delivering my baby, I was devastated.
When I was in labor on Christmas Day, the nurses at the hospital worked shorter shifts. Because of this, I met quite a few of them as they rotated through at various points of my labor and delivery. It was a Nurse Anesthetist that gave me an almost painless epidural, and a kindhearted nurse that stayed a couple hours past her shift -- despite the fact that she had children of her own at home -- because she wanted to help deliver my daughter. It was also the nurses who took my brand new baby to the nursery the following night when I was exhausted and defeated, and nurses who gave me my discharge instructions with the goal of empowerment instead of judgement.
As my daughter grew, so did my love for learning and healthcare. I worked hard to graduate high school early and attend college with my class -- followed by graduate school -- and spent much of my time volunteering and mentoring other young moms. I fell in love with the emotional and physiological changes of pregnancy and childbirth, fondly remembering my own experiences with my daughter and how amazing that time was in my life, despite the stigma surrounding my young age.
Throughout college and beyond, I jumped at the opportunity to work with new and expecting moms -- I helped organize retreats, edited resumes at a women's shelter in downtown Boston, and spoke at conferences around the United States on behalf of young pregnant and parenting women who were in need of specific resources to succeed in higher education. I exposed my very raw and vulnerable background to young parents, board members, and trustees around the country in order to fight for the improvement of access to services for such vulnerable populations.
When I graduated nursing school, I always knew that I wanted to work in obstetrics, specifically with underprivileged populations. As a teen parent, I had faced so much adversity as I put myself through college while raising my daughter. I had navigated the world of Medicaid, WIC, and SNAP -- I will never forget the sense of pride I felt as I cut up my EBT card the evening we signed our first apartment lease when I graduated with my Bachelor's Degree. I wanted to spend my life empowering new and expecting moms to know that their pregnancies do not define them or their capabilities.
Children should fuel our fire, not extinguish the flames
One of the most beautiful aspects of the nursing profession is the way we care for our patients. We choose the profession knowing that we are our patient's greatest advocate and the liaison between the patient and the doctor. This comes with great joy and great responsibility as we harbor the weight of patient outcomes on our shoulders. Sometimes our personal backgrounds and experiences also shape us to gravitate towards a certain area of nursing where we can flourish, not only as an educator or clinician, but as someone who has walked the very path of our patients. There's only so much a textbook can teach, and sharing my own experiences and exposing my vulnerability instilled a sense of peace and trust in my expecting moms. Allowing them to open up to me meant better care for them, too, because I was truly able to assess their needs to help make their pregnancy outcomes safe and healthy.
I am deeply passionate about obstetrical nursing -- even though I've left the profession for the time being, not a day goes by where I don't think fondly of my patients and of my experiences as an obstetrical nurse. I was so grateful for the kindness and unbiased care shown to me as a pregnant teen -- it quite literally sparked a desire to pass the torch and show my patients their own worth under even the direst circumstances. I view my background and experiences as a privilege because they have shaped me into a caring, intelligent, and passionate clinician that will never stop fighting for my patients.
I challenge you to look at your own path and what led you to choose nursing, specifically the area you are passionate about -- what brought you to the profession, and what keeps you going each day?