Oncology Charge Nurse Q&A
Q: How did you figure out you wanted to be a nurse?
A: I actually thought I wanted to be a neuropsychologist at first. I started out in college taking honors biology and chemistry, which were really difficult. I went to my advisor after the first semester and asked for help. And he advised me that I should major in psychology instead of neuroscience. I finished up my sophomore year and still wasn’t happy. I did a summer internship to see how neuropsychologists are used in the hospital system, and I wasn’t satisfied by that either. For a while I thought I wanted to be an interior designer. I registered for all these art classes and my mom came to visit me at school. She said to me in the car, ‘You know what I always thought you’d make—a really excellent nurse.’ And the light bulb when on, the heavens parted, sunbeams hit my head, a chorus of angels sang—I had a massive epiphany! I had never thought about that. That whole year I had been addicted to trauma shows on TLC. My friend was going through the nursing program at Texas Christian University at the time, and so I had a taste of what it was like. She was always coming back with all these cool stories. And I thought to myself, I think that’s what I want to do.
Q: What was nursing school like?
A: I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s extremely grueling. It’s like taking medical school, which is spaced out over four years, and cramming it into two years.
Q: What kind of extracurricular activities did you do while in nursing school?
A: Before I started nursing school, I went and followed around my cousin’s wife who is an ER nurse for a 12-hour shift during spring break. And after I came back, I was certain I wanted to be a nurse. I was so excited that when I got back to school, I immediately wanted to start working in the hospital. The people at the hospital said I either needed to reach a certain point in nursing school or I needed to take a three-week course at the hospital. The summer before nursing school I enrolled in this class at the hospital and they taught me all the basic skills: how to take vital signs, change a bed, give a bed bath, administer a bed pan and all that kind of stuff. After the course they hire you to work as a nurse assistant at the hospital and you are expected to give them a year of service as an employee in return. I ended up working in the neonatal intensive care unit. I would highly recommend anyone who is going through nursing school to get a job as a nurse’s assistant. I felt it made a huge difference in my comfort level when I got into the clinical portion of nursing school.
Q: What are employers looking for on nursing resumes?
A: Employers want you to be a well-rounded person. They look at what else you do besides nursing. Do you have any community service experience? What else did you study when you were in school? I think it also helps to have some previous health care experience like being a nurse’s aid or being involved in a student nursing program. If you can speak another language, that is a huge bonus too.
Q: What was your first interview like?
A: When I interviewed at my present job, I listed all the community service I had done on my resume. I was in a community service fraternity throughout my college career and did more than 500 hours of service. I remember my director looking over my resume and saying ‘I want to ask you about your community service, was that voluntary?’ And that gave me a chuckle since I had marked on my application that I hadn’t been convicted of a felony.
Q: What did you do to prepare for your oncology nursing certification?
A: I took a review course. And the main reason I took a review course was so that I could see what I was getting myself into and hopefully to learn more about oncology. I took it through Memorial Hermann. I approached my manager and said this is something I want to do and she said that she highly recommend it too. So we were able to work out something where I had those days off. Most managers are going to encourage advanced certification because it shows they have a level of knowledge and a skill set greater than the average registered nurse. I also went ahead and became a member of a professional organization, the Oncology Nursing Society, so I could get a discount on the registration fee on the exam.
Q: Tell me a little about working in the oncology department.
A: Once I got a year of experience under my belt taking care of cancer patients and learning more about how cancer works as a disease, I fell in love with it. It is a difficult field to work in, but I find the disease fascinating. There are new discoveries every day and so much you can learn about the disease process and the emotional, spiritual and psychological aspects that you can learn from your patients.
Q: What do you think about the nursing shortage?
A: Now it’s not an issue of being able to recruit nursing students, it’s an issue of not having faculty to teach those students. For some reason the older nurses out there in the workforce are simply retiring and leaving the workforce altogether and not entering the academic arena.
Q: How are nurses viewed in the health care system?
A: Nursing has been historically a career for women. With the whole equal opportunity movement and women’s lib in the ‘70s, women decided ‘well nursing isn’t a career choice for me anymore because that is what women who came before me used to do. I am a free independent woman; I want to be a doctor.’ And that’s great, we need female doctors, but we really need people in nursing, whether they be men or women. I think nursing developed this stigma that it was less of a career. There needs to be a paradigm shift to show the general public and prospective nursing students that nurses aren’t less than doctors; Nurses are equal with them. Nurses are simply one player in the health care team. There’s the physician, the nurse, the pharmacist, the physical therapist, and we’re all on the same playing field and we all have the same goal to get the patient well and out of the hospital.
Q: Anything else you want to get off your chest about nursing?
A: I’m going to get on my soapbox now. Medical TV shows portray nursing in a horrible light. Let’s take ER for instance. The scenes where you’re watching a trauma victim getting worked on, 90 percent of what the physicians are doing in that room would actually be done by nurses. The majority of the action that takes place in hospitals is done by nurses. Essentially in a trauma situation you have one or two physicians and eight nurses in the room. On TV you also have the nurse who to further her career has to become a doctor rather than go to nurse practitioner school. It’s not accurate, and it glamorizes the physician and leaves out nursing. I’ve always wanted to see a show about nurses that doesn’t involve them sleeping with doctors and actually shows them working with patients. I don’t see why that can’t be exciting.