Experienced nurses share career stories to illustrate the variety of paths possible in the profession
A person formally educated and trained in the care of the sick or infirm.
To tend or minister to, in sickness, infirmity, etc.
“If I were to summarize all the different paths within nursing, I think I would use the word astounding” says Joan Hoover, a retired registered nurse (RN).
She has worked in the operating room and managed a private outpatient surgery center. As an RN, a person has so many different routes they can take.
“There’s 1000 different kinds of jobs,” says Carolyn Alvarez RN. “As an RN, she has worked in [a] progressive care unit in a larger hospital and post-open-heart stepped down unit,” and now “in data abstraction at home”.
Kaitlin Schoonhoven, RN, continues: “I think that is one of the pluses of being a nurse.”
This great plus is the vastness of nursing.
“There’s procedural areas, pre-op, recovery, there’s nurses who put in lines throughout the hospital, there’s admissions, the emergency room, labor and delivery, ICU, cardiac, there’s offices and outpatient clinics, training for legal nurse consulting,” Alvarez says.
“The capabilities of what you can do as an RN are just innumerable; there are so many avenues that you can do” explains Schoonhoven.
Heidi Streed, RN, is Minnehaha’s Upper School nurse. She explains the different places she has worked: “I’ve worked at Abbott Northwestern in telemetry,” which is a specialized cardiac med/surgery unit, and “in the CCU, which is like an ICU for the heart as a diabetic resource nurse to teach patients about diabetes and how they impact their cardiac health.” She then “was certified as a research nurse” and “did cardiac research.” She also volunteered at St. Mary’s clinic at that time, providing care for people who did not have insurance. She has gone on medical missions trips. After her time in research she “worked at Abbotts in the recovery room area”. Streed has now been at Minnehaha for the past 10 years.
Float Pool Teaching
Schoonhoven says that the first area of nursing she worked in “was [as] an LPN in an urgent care right in a doctor’s office” while she was completing her RN degree. Then, she “went over to the hospital and started as a resource nurse.” Then, she “floated everywhere else in the hospital: orthopedics, med /surg, oncology cardiac, kidney, etc.” After that, she “worked in the ER department; it was a specialized unit called the admissions unit,” then, “a few months out neuro unit do-ing part time” Then, she “moved to orthopedics nine years ago, and” has “been on an orthopedic floor ever since.”
Retired RN Marable Kersey had a long and varied nursing career. “My first area of nursing actually was in public health in Des Moines,” she said. “Then I started working at the county hospital in Des Moines in OB and also in the emergency room and house supervising.” Kersey’s family then moved to Minneapolis. She worked “in the emergency room at the St. Louis Park Methodist Hospital” until they moved back to Des Moines. Her career progressed “in a small hospital as the operating room supervisor there.” She received her teaching degree and “started teaching at the Methodist School of Nursing for eight years”. She then “went to critical care and worked there for eight years”.
Nursing and Missions
Kersey’s next step opened the door to do something amazing: “Then I got an opportunity to teach International through Nurses Christian Fellowship, and start a parish nurse program where a church nurse serves on a church staff; during that time, I got the chance to fly on Pat Robertson’s airplane he had made into a flying hospital”. She was the operating room supervisor. She also went with other medical mission groups to Mexico. The last several years of her career were spent teaching how a nurse serves a gathering of Believers. “The thing I liked about that is how you can give people hope through Jesus,” she said. “I was able to do it under a Christian umbrella, and that was very delightful.”
Kersey’s daughter, Linda Grant, RN, got to go on some of those trips as well. “Before I even started at the hospital, I went on with a medical mission team, which was a great experience of missionary nursing”. Grant began “in the hospital setting on the post-op surgical floor for two years.” She then “did the float pool which was in-house floating everywhere in the hospital [on] all floors: surgical, medical, to pediatrics, psych rehab”. I did that for five years, so I got a good taste of everything you can do in the hospital”. She continued: “for the last I don’t know 35 years or so I’ve been in maternity”.
Grant’s sister, Debra O’Leary, retired RN, “started out in the hospital on an orthopedic floor and worked there for 10 years”. Her hospital started “outpatient surgery” and she was asked “to join the team to start that unit”. O’Leary followed a conviction based on faith to be at home with her children. She returned as the PRN, working as an on-call nurse instead of full time, after 13 years of caring for and home-schooling her children. She and her husband moved to Des Moines when she was 60 years old; she decided to try something new and ended up as care coordinator at a new clinic until the pandemic when she was offered a job as the office coordinator at her church. “What I especially love and appreciate is that I still do patient teaching.”
Caring for people, avoiding boredom
As shown, nursing is an extremely vast career. One can do so many different things. Krystal Hoover, RN, explains a really practical piece of this: “if you get really burnt out or tired doing one specific type of nursing, then you can always change your specialty. It’s a pretty vast array of things you can get into”. She adds an important note to consider: “it all has the same undertone of caring for people. If you don’t care for people, it’s not for you. You gotta care about people”. Hoover started on a “clinical, nursing and progressive care unit…a telemetry cardiac floor”. She then “worked on a pre surgical admitting unit”; they “did intake on patients for anesthesia, pre anesthesia, to make sure that they were healthy enough and well enough to be able to go through a surgery”.
Streed said that “the career is so massive…It’s very physical nonstop work at a hospital, but it’s amazing and you learn so much. I’ve loved every phase I’ve been at so far”. In research, she got “to work more one on one with the cardiologists and learn more about why they do what they do…you can always do as much [or as] little nursing as you want”.
Nursing and Family
Ashley Soule, RN has worked in the emergency department for seven years. She shares her thoughts on how broad the career is: “you can work in a clinic, in a hospital, at a school. You can teach”. She explains that boredom does not happen: “there’s always something more to learn,…more to look for-ward to, and challenge yourself”. She touches on one of the major draws to the career “nursing is just really good for family”.
Soule is not the only one who this appealed to. O’Leary observed how her mother, Kersey’s, “education ha[d] been valuable to [her] family”. O’Leary knew she wanted a family and she explains “I cannot think of a better foundation or bed of knowledge to minister to family, friends”. She says she felt as though she had gotten to do all she wanted to do. Kersey shares her thoughts on some of the lesser known benefits of nursing: “people realize all nurses have a basic body of knowledge…No matter what different area you go into, you still go back to that basic body of knowledge that you know;…and actually that’s quite a benefit. It’s a benefit to the nurse. It’s a benefit to society”.
“Nurses can really do anything from your simple changing a Foley catheter to starting an IV all the way up to teaching and insurance and administration,” says Megan Boyd, RN. She has worked in a nursing home, done “family medicine in a clinic setting,” and now she works in home health. Boyd explains how many people perceive nurses just as the routine meds and vitals, but she says “Nursing, especially in home care, I teach. I do a lot of education with patients”.
“There’s a lot of different things you can do. There’s like 100 different jobs you can have as a nurse,” says Marcos Alvarez, RN. He has been a clinical instructor and currently works on a cardiac floor in a hospital. “You can be a director of a division all the way up to the chief nursing officer. There’s educator roles, and of course working on the floor, and that’s just inside the hospital. And then there’s home health and working in schools, being a nursing instructor”.
“I’ve always just done correctional nursing,” says Kathleen De Graff, RN. Correctional nursing is in jails and prisons, another very interesting and unique route a nurse can take. She shares her thoughts on the vastness of nursing: “I mean the sky’s the limit. Any field you know, oncology, OBGYN, you know, all those facets, but now you can stay home and be a nurse. I mean, it’s just whatever you want it to be”.
This is part of the allure of nursing. For one nurse, she says, “hospital nursing is very intense in general. And I kind of sometimes miss the thrill of that a little bit. Like I enjoy the fast pace and intensity of it,” says Anna O’Leary, RN. She spent the first half of her career in adult critical care as a part of a progressive care unit and the second half as a public health nurse for Hennepin County “to new moms and babies”. She continues: “so within the nursing field you can be analyzing data and deciding case management things all day, most hospital administrators are nurses. There’s nursing homes, home care hospital care clinics…there’s like a million different jobs you could do”.
All of these dedicated nurses share similar yet different thoughts on how unique their job field is. Nursing, regardless of setting and specialty, always draws back to the same body of knowledge and has an undertone of caring for others. It truly is fascinating the innumerable paths you can take as a nurse, and that is the great draw of nursing.