How nursing allows me to give back

When I reflect on the elements which persuaded my decision to become a nurse, I cannot ignore hereditary influence. Between my maternal grandfather’s aunt serving with Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War and three of my aunts graduating as diploma nurses after WWII, I would say my genes are pretty entrenched in a passion for nursing!

My first job during college was working as a weekend secretary on an orthopedic ward at a major medical center hospital in the northeast. It was then that I grew to admire the spirit of the floor nurse who wore a starched white uniform, nurse’s cap, white stockings, white shoes and a navy blue cape clasped at the neck worn during cold, snowy weather. I was in awe of how that uniform stayed a pristine white after an eight-hour shift. I loved to sit at the bedside with some of the long-term patients to listen to their stories. I was so excited to be a small part of their team!

Although I was told, “You should have been a nurse,” many times during my life, I don’t think I seriously considered going into the nursing profession until I experienced a life-changing event that happened to me as a patient at Houston Methodist Hospital.

Florence Nightingale
Nursing has always been in Christine’s blood. Her maternal grandfather’s aunt worked with Florence Nightingale (picture here), who is considered to be the founder of modern nursing.

As an adolescent, I developed a chronic hip condition that led to significant arthritic pain and immobility. The predictable treatment was total hip replacement. I was encouraged to wait as long as possible to receive the most reliable implant that would improve my quality of life; a life without chronic arthritic pain. A nurse from our church recommended a well-known, highly respected orthopedic surgeon at Houston Methodist Hospital. At 40 years old I underwent hip replacement surgery. I remember waking up in a private room on Dunn 7, surrounded by my family; and best of all, I was free from hip pain!

My nurses exhibited a gentle and caring passion in the art of nursing. They taught me about hip precautions and infection control. I trusted them with my life and I was deeply saddened to say goodbye on the day of discharge!

This positive experience left me with a profound urge toward following the Golden Rule, that is, to “give back.” Could I be a nurse? My hip was fixed, but I was unsure I could endure the physical demands required of a nurse. My ultimate nudge was from my husband who said, “There is nothing wrong with your brain — go back to school and become a nurse.” That gentle push was what I needed to satisfy my need to give back to those who changed my life.

I have since graduated with my master’s degree and have shared my personal story with many elective joint replacement patients, some of whom are nurses and doctors here at Houston Methodist. I hope that sharing my experience has made a difference.

How my mom inspired me to become a nurse

When I was in third grade, my mom was a single parent and worked nights as a charge nurse at the local hospital. She would take her three girls to work with her because she felt it was safer than leaving us at home alone. She would make things convenient and comfortable for us in the break room. She would make sure we had enough snacks, blankets and things to keep us busy during her 11-7 shift.

Most nights I would not sleep. Being the youngest of the girls, I was pretty attached to my mom. I would get up just to follow her around and watch her take care of the patients. She was such a caring nurse and would go from patient to patient checking to see if they needed anything for pain or if they were comfortable.

I remember very vividly when a patient passed away on my mom’s shift and, being the only RN in charge, she had to prepare the body for the funeral home. I asked if I could help, she asked me if I was sure and I told her yes, I wanted to help.

As I assisted my mom, I watched how caring she was to this patient, and considering the family would be there to see him soon. She cleaned him and treated him with so much dignity and respect that even at that young age all I could think about is I how I wanted to be just like her — a caring nurse and loving mom.

Today, my mom is a retired nurse practitioner. I followed in her footsteps to become the caring nurse I am today. After 25 years, I still enjoy taking care of the patients. As a professor of nursing students, I have passion for paying it forward. All this from the inspiration came from my mom.

Surviving nursing school and the first years in the real world

Now you’re a Registered Nurse (RN) or working toward graduation. Plans of serious celebration have been rightfully put in order for some time. You have said goodbye to a full night’s sleep, nail polish in exchange for scrubs, learned about evidenced-based practice, good bedside manner and the diligence to work up four-to-five patients since 5 a.m.

To the rest of the world this may sound crazy. Why did you put yourself through all of that? Because you want to do the one thing that has captured your spirit and tugged on your heartstrings ever since the moment you realized you wanted to become a nurse: you want to make a difference.

Nursing school has a way of pushing a sequence of buttons. In the real world of nursing the same is true, but it’s a different set of buttons. The difference is after school you emerge stronger, refined, polished and professional. You have the thinking required to take charge, augment your responses and practice nursing in the clinical way.

Ronie Bisping quote about nursing
Keep perspective throughout your entire nursing career.

Many aspects of your career may change, but there is one thing that does not change: you and the kind of nurse you want to be. If you are in school, listen to your inner voice, do what strikes you best and get inspired. Why did you want to become a nurse? Remind yourself of that every day before beginning a shift.

Tips for new nurses

Positive communication. This is the single most important skill to master no matter. As a patient advocate and university/hospital representative, your communication skills need to be on point 100 percent of the time. People may not remember the exact verbiage that you used, but they will certainly remember how you made them feel.

Be honest about your capabilities. “RN” covers a multitude of jobs that involve patients from all different walks of life, settings and acuities. While I will always be the No. 1 cheerleader for every person climbing that nursing ladder of success, know where your limits are and know when to speak up.

Own your leadership skills. You are on the front lines of leadership and patient advocacy. The difference between someone only wanting to clock in and clock out and someone showing up to make an outstanding difference is noticed.

As a nurse, your communication skills need to be on point 100% of the time Click To Tweet

Get in there. Nursing is a lifelong journey and the destination is not graduation. Whether you are two years or 42 years into your nursing practice, the process of learning never ceases. Find what works for you, the patient and your team, and seek to understand what resources are available to you and your practice.

Organization is key. Nursing is a planning profession. Get your name on the books now. None of this is meant to panic you; only to stress the importance of organization into every element of your life.

The key to success finding out what is expected of you, knowing what tools are available, beefing up your knowledge base and organizing it in a fashion that compliments your practice and life. Watch and learn from those a few steps in front of you and do not be afraid to bring what you have to offer to the table.

Growing pains are inevitable. Bodies grow and so do minds, spirits and personal limits. If your desires are true, your intent pure and your will strong, all the things you thought you couldn’t do you, you will see in time, you have been doing all along.

Why I became a nurse: The summer of ’62

Toward the end of my sophomore year in high school, my best friend asked if I would consider becoming a “candy striper” at a local hospital. At the time my plans were to become a math teacher. After much coaxing on her part and for lack of anything better to do that summer, I finally agreed.

I remember those first days of being in the hospital as if they were yesterday. My duties were to deliver ice water to patients’ rooms, feed and transport patients and assist the nurses with errands.

I was immediately awestruck and captivated with what I saw within the walls of the hospital. I found a place where there was challenge, endless learning opportunities and a sense of camaraderie. I loved meeting new people every day. For the first time in my life I knew what it meant to feel needed and was heart-warmed by how appreciative patients could be.

The nurses I worked with served as role models. They nurtured and taught me, and I was like a little sponge absorbing everything I could. That summer, I could hardly stay away from the hospital and knew, without question nursing would always be my passion.

At the beginning of my junior year I was asked to become a nurse’s aide at $1 per hour! I was thrilled with this honor. I was trained and acquired more responsibilities in direct, hands-on patient care, which I relished.

Throughout my junior and sophomore years I worked every weekend, and any time off from school was at the hospital, saving every dime for nursing school. My goal was to attend Douglas College — the most prestigious school in New Jersey at the time — to obtain my BSN.

There was just one problem, and that was a major one. My father blatantly refused to support me in any way to become a nurse. Obtaining a BSN was no longer a tangible goal. Since I would have to support myself, I had to find a way to become a nurse and to do it quickly. I applied and was accepted into a two-year diploma program in New York and fortuitously received two scholarships and acquired two part-time jobs.

My patients’ appreciation for the simplest acts of kindness still touches my heart Click To Tweet

Shortly after graduation I moved to Miami Beach and began classes toward my BSN. Unfortunately, I married a man who insisted I withdraw from school. It wasn’t until 1976, as a single parent working in the MICU/CCU at Houston Methodist Hospital, that I resumed my education. With the financial backing of our hospital and the support of my manager, I finally received my degree in 1979.

Joy Shiller started her nursing career 52 years ago as a candy striper (left) and has been with Houston Methodist for 44 years (right).

I met many obstacles in my nursing education and did it the hard way. But that was good. I sincerely believe had it not been that way I would have never appreciated my career as much as I do.

Throughout my 44 years at Houston Methodist I have been offered many opportunities to move into other positions. I have denied each one because I love bedside nursing. It’s hard to believe it has been more than half a century since my days as a candy striper. Yet, every day when I come to work I still feel challenged, have learning opportunities and a sense of camaraderie.

I still enjoy meeting new people every day and to know that I am needed. My patients’ appreciation for the simplest acts of kindness still touches my heart. I will always be grateful for that summer of ’62. My life has been incredibly blessed because of it.