For pediatric nurses, it’s not all hand-holding and brightly-colored scrubs – it’s a job that takes grit, resilience and quick thinking. For Hillary, a Cirrus Medical Staffing pediatric RN, pediatric nursing became a calling after years in retail and sales – entering nursing school at age 30, she knew that she wanted to be in the medical field in a capacity that would feed her passion to have a direct impact on patient care. Pediatric nursing became her specialty. In this no-holds-barred Q&A, Hillary tells us what drives her to work in pediatrics, a specialty that isn’t short of challenges, but carries rewards like none other.
Describe how you started as a nurse, and how it’s led to where you are today as a travel pediatric nurse.
I went to EMT school back in 1998, and my husband was already firefighter/EMT at the time (now a fire chief), so my love for medicine is a family affair. While volunteering as an EMT during that time, my paying job was in sales and retail. After having five (yes, five) children, I decided sales really didn’t make me happy. I wanted to choose a clinical field that allowed me to spend time with patients, so nursing became the obvious choice for the next step in my career. I became the first person in my family to go to college, getting my ASN and working on a BSN. In school, I discovered my love for pediatrics. My first job was with a St. Jude’s affiliate hospital on the general care pediatric floor. There, I learned the gamete of pediatric skills from post-burn, diabetics, neutropenic, orthopedic – you name it, I learned how to administer care. That was a really good first year to get skills in a lot of different areas.
The beauty of nursing is that if you ever feel complacent or bored with something, you can easily make a switch to something else because of the broad range nursing offers. I bounced around a bit, trying out life as an ER nurse to even working with the adult population (gasp!) for a while before deciding pediatrics is where I belonged. A fellow nurse told me about his extraordinary experience in travel nursing, and gave me his top staffing company recommendation (Cirrus Medical Staffing). I was ready for my next adventure, and with the help of my recruiter at Cirrus I was working my first assignment as a travel nurse for a children’s hospital in St. Louis in no time. Next up: Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital!
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
How can I choose one thing? Working with kids is amazing. There’s so much hope – so much drive and a will to get better that you just don’t see as often with adult patients. Kids always have support from someone; even in the most horrible situations where a mother or father isn’t present, there’s always somebody pulling for these kids. I also love being able to see the dramatic recoveries firsthand. Their will to fight is tangible, and kids have an amazing ability to turn themselves around. You don’t get that kind of optimism on other floors.
What is the most difficult part of your job?
Abuse cases are some of the most difficult, and being a mother myself makes it even more difficult. Abuse cases, or “non-accidental traumas”, start with a report filed through the ER or through a pediatrician’s office. My job at that point (along with caring for the child’s clinical needs) is to observe any parental visitations, take notes and document things I overhear, and essentially be an advocate for my patient. This goes a step beyond anything I’ve dealt with in any other specialty – I get to speak up for the voiceless and the helpless, going above and beyond the typical level of care for their well-being.
Why would you encourage other nurses/nursing students to specialize in pediatrics?
Pediatrics is wonderful – I can’t speak highly enough to the profession. You can ask any nurse who solely works with adults, and they will tell you that they’re frightened of working with kids. Pediatric patients can be much more unpredictable: for example, kids often don’t give you trend in vitals that they’re going to crash, they just crash. It is an extremely intense environment for 12 hours a day, but in exchange you get to make such a difference in children’s lives. I might see a patient come in with minimal quality of life because of their condition, but I get to help them get back home and have a sense of normalcy. I’ve helped children with psychiatric needs get placement (a really underserved population). I have seen kids discharged after being in the hospital for months, and come back to visit in great health – this full circle approach allows pediatric nurses to uniquely bond with those families and patients.
All nurses give of themselves. Pediatric nurses can give so much more, growing attached to these kids.
Describe a typical day in the life of a pediatric travel nurse.
You are on your toes all day long! To succeed in pediatrics, you have to have some of the fastest critical thinking skills, good instincts, and ability to follow your gut. If you have a hunch something doesn’t look quite right, you don’t have time to sit on it. Like I said, pediatric patients can go from awake and talking one minute, to completely unresponsive the next – with no warning. Unlike adults, children’s bodies are great at compensating for whatever’s going on, until all of a sudden they crash. Also unlike adults, kids have the uncanny ability to bounce back, and the optimism is palpable.
Do any particular patient stories come to mind that continue to inspire you to keep doing the important work you’ve chosen?
I think that being able to see the impact you make in a patient’s life, even if they aren’t going to make it, is what continues to inspire me. I once had a patient with a neurodegenerative disease that left him bedridden, needing round-the-clock care for a number of years. When his body started to shut down, he was admitted to my care in the hospital. Having worked on comfort care floors in nursing school, I had experience dealing with death, and saw it as my privilege to care for him while he passed. Even though he could only blink his eyes to communicate, he was able to make the decision himself to let go and stop fighting. He wasn’t sad about it; he knew it was his time to go. I got the chance to sit with him, pray with him, talk to him, read notes people were writing to him, play a video his classmates made for him, and a number of other wonderful things to help him transition. Even if they don’t make it, you still make a huge impact.
How has working with Cirrus Medical Staffing enriched your experience as a traveler/nurse?
As a traveler, it has given me the opportunity to meet other nurses, excel at every assignment, and to really get the experience different hospitals have to offer. Hospitals vary in so many ways: diverse charting systems, how they take care of patients, routine of care, standards of care, how often to change a fluid bag, and more. This said, I get to really experience that evidence-based practice everyone talks about. Traveling affords me the opportunity to get out of the same routine, day in and day out. I’m constantly still learning; if you want to expand your career, mind and practice, travel nursing is the way to do it.
What inspires you about Hillary’s story? Share it on your social media page, along with your own inspiring story about life as a nurse!