Submitted by Lorene Zammuto, BSN, RN
In 2006 I decided to take a licensed nursing assistant course. My objective was simple. Test the waters, try something new, and if I didn’t like it that was fine because the time and financial commitment was marginal. I had been working in the arts for many years so this was a definite deviation from my prior work experience. In my defense however my childhood dream was to become a doctor (that or Spiderman). My doctor dream was promptly shattered when in 6th grade I realized that I hated math and wasn’t particularly fond of science.
I also had a brush with the world of medicine when at age 10 my mother lost her several year battle with breast cancer. This had a profound effect on me. My brother and I were required to assist her with dressing changes and other basic tasks in the last months of her life. I vividly remember the smell of Betadine while my young mind raced with thoughts of fear and concern for my loving mother’s rapidly declining health.
Fast forward a whole bunch of years. After the birth of my second child I felt that I needed a new challenge. I saw an ad in a local newspaper and signed up for the LNA class. Shortly after beginning the program I became excited and my high grades build my confidence. I was on to something. The class ended in just over a month and I accepted my first job on a medical surgical unit in a small critical access hospital. Wow, this was awesome. Everyday I learned something new-lots of new things. I kept busy and looked for every opportunity to do more, experience more. Knowledge was like a drug. I couldn’t get enough. It didn’t take long before I realized that I was going to be headed to nursing school. Being an LNA just wasn’t going to afford me the opportunities, experiences, or income that I was looking for.
After the (often) painful years of nursing school I finally became an RN. By now I had externed in the emergency room, floated to various units, and soaked up every last drop of knowledge that my wonderful nurse mentors graciously gave me. I give a huge amount of credit to these nurses. They inspired, pushed, and supported me every step of the way.
My first RN position was as a staff nurse in a labor and delivery unit. This is where I swiftly fell off my high-horse. All of my excitement and enthusiasm for nursing met an early grave as I struggled through orientation and to connect with a new and less warm and fuzzy team. This was not the place for me. It was awful in fact and for the first time in years I really wondered if I had made a terrible mistake. After some soul-searching I decided to move on-which I did.
My next job was as a Supervisor for a nursing home. This was cool. Finally, a leadership position (which I greatly missed from my prior career). Perhaps an opportunity to be more creative I hoped. I was excited and my passion for nursing was rekindled. I enjoyed this position and had a new mentor that made it a very positive experience. In time things started to feel stagnate. My big ideas weren’t always well received in a county facility. There were too many rules. As a former free-spirit I felt stifled and ultimately resentful. Eventually the spark totally faded and I once again began to consider new professional possibilities. It was at this point I realized that as an RN I could be anything I wanted to be and go anywhere I wanted to go, so why not try?
My next job was as a Nurse Practice Educator on a transitional care unit. Once again the passion and excitement bloomed. More money, bigger responsibilities, opportunities to implement my ideas, and a more acute environment to keep the adrenalin pumping. Like every job, this position wasn’t without its struggles. My unit team was exemplary however and again I found another amazing nurse mentor. We worked like partners but she was pretty much my boss. I learned a great deal from her and it felt great to add another amazing mentor to my growing list.
Perhaps I lack a suitable attention span or maybe I’m inpatient. It didn’t take long before I surveyed the company and concluded that it was going to take far too long for me to move up in the ranks. I’ve learned that this is a trait in myself I can’t ignore. I’m always looking for new opportunities and challenges. Once I decide that there are limitations or barriers to those opportunities I swiftly construct an exit plan of action. So naturally I decided to move on.
This time with a BSN under my belt I reached higher and farther than I had before. My experiences build my confidence. I began to believe in myself as a professional and took a good hard look at what I really had to offer as well as what I really wanted out of my nursing career. After all, I choose to be a nurse. I paid for my education. Why shouldn’t I love my job? I dug deep this time because I wanted to resist my inner-artist’s urge to spontaneously react. This move has to be well thought out, calculated, and deeply considered. Where could I be most effective, challenged, have a leadership role, have opportunities to implement systems, become submerged in learning, teach, problem-solve, utilize my business and professional skills, encounter unpredictability, and most of all be creative? Director of Nursing. That is what I wanted to be.
With a finely tuned resume, and updated LinkedIn page, some strong references, and a whole lot of fortitude I sought out such an opportunity. It didn’t take long before I found just what I was looking for. The interviewing was intense and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. Every time I heard voices of self-doubt whispering in my head I promptly shut them out. This was after all my life and my career. I was taking charge and charting my own course. What did I have to lose? I didn’t become a nurse to do a job I don’t like and I was not going to settle. Why should I when being an RN provides boundless opportunities to do exactly what you want. I accepted the DON position and happily have stepped off the hamster wheel. I’m happy.
Working with many new nurses is a thrill. When asked for my advice I encourage them to be brave, take risks and aggressively pursue your professional dreams. Too many new nurses say they won’t apply to the specialty the long for because they don’t thing they have enough experience. I really feel like this is highly self-limiting. In this field the knowledge and experience never ends. You won’t get every job you want but you have nothing to lose by trying. If your dream is to become a trauma nurse and you work in a nursing home it’s time to take action. Nurses generally know far more than they give themselves credit for. Begin to really evaluate your skills and give yourself credit for what you know the experiences you have, and don’t forget about the non-nursing experiences as well. If you are a computer genius on the side then do not omit that from your resume. Many nurses come into the field as a second career. They often have oodles of important leadership, technology, and interpersonal skills. To beef up your clinical nursing skills take classes, per-diem jobs to gain experience, volunteer, and most importantly utilize your mentors. Experienced nurses can provide you with priceless information and support that can help you set sail on a new nursing path that you really love.