One topic that has routinely come up at interviews so far is the fact that I’m a nurse. That’s right. I was a nurse and then I went to medical school, and *gasp* I occasionally still pick up shifts while attending medical school. I don’t get why this is so shocking. I mean, it’s not like I was lion tamer or something. It seems like a fairly logical career move to an unattached, childless, total nerd, school/all things medical lover like me. Shrug.
So I get to work last night and all is calm and all is right. One of the day-shifters is escorting the last in-patient out the door and the ER is dark. 1930 and the census is officially zero. Sweet. My RN compadre for the night and I hustle through cart, fridge, and supply checks. We hastily, but efficiently, stock cupboards and IV trays, lock doors, count narcs, and settle into the lounge. By 2 am I’ve cleaned out my back pack and purse, read two chapters in my new ER text, researched my next interview stop, posted on the blog, finished four (a new, one shift personal best) crossword puzzles, drunk an entire pot of coffee, and sort of watched three Christmas movies. Nice.
Then, the ambulance radio goes off. We perk up to hear a call for ambulance and fire crews for a car accident nearby. Oh yeah, that one is coming here. We head out to the desk to listen in and sure enough, 15 minutes later, they are en route to our ER. The adrenaline wins over the 3 am sleepies and we head to the ER to prep. And find the computers are down for some reason. At this point, working as sporadically as I do, I can barely manage to use the new EMR system when its working, I have next to no idea what the h*ll to do when it’s not. More adrenaline. We run out to riffle through manuals and call IT. No one answers at IT, and the ambulance has arrived.
I go back to the ambulance bay, check my own pulse, and open the door. I realize at that moment how truly easy it is to be a med student. Right then I knew I had no one to hold my hand, tell me what to do, or take over. Tag, I was it. Yes, I had another (amazingly awesome) RN to work with, and an MD in the call room, but I was not an observer or an unresponsible learner in this scenario. I was as utterly responsible for the patients as they were, I had better pull my weight, know my sh*t, and there was no room for error. The shift in roles hit me harder than it had in a long time.
Then two stretchers roll in and I’m inundated by excited chatter from the EMTs. Screw the EMR, I grab a blank sheet of copy paper, and we start writing everything we do and hear down as we follow Trauma protocols. We get the basic information, assessments and interventions done, call the MD, and reboot all the computers. The sign-in screen for the EMR flashes up and we both cheer. My (amazingly awesome) co-worker takes over the lion’s share of the documentation, but I manage to hold my own. We continue to care for the patients until the day shift arrives.
I walked out this morning and thought about that moment of realization, that instant of terror, when I realized how completely responsible I was for the lives of others, and I was glad for it. I thought of residency, when I will gradually, carefully be introduced to that level of responsibility and authority as a physician, and I was scared again. But, I thought, I’ve been there before, I will work my behind off to know as much as I can and be as ready as possible. I thought of probably the majority (?) of other med students who haven’t had the experience of really being responsible for a patient’s care, and I felt lucky to know exactly what I am facing. I wonder how they manage without knowing, without having been there. I know they do, and they do just fine. But I still wonder.
And that is why I continue to work as an RN while I go to med school, and I am very, very happy to do so. (Okay, it’s also, in part, because I miss my nurse buddies. And because I’m poor. Very, very poor. Not gonna lie.) It’s not because I’m some kind masochistic, gunner, workaholic, showoff freakazoid. It’s almost comforting to keep going back and feel the terror, because it makes me feel that much more humbled, and prepared.
So now maybe I’ll have something more concrete to tell interviewers when they incredulously ask “You were a nurse??” “You still work as a nurse??”
Yes, yes I do. I am d*mn lucky to do so, and here’s why…..