Written by: Jordan Myers, BSN-RN, NNP
Starting out as a new grad on an oncology unit is tough place to begin a nursing career. I experienced burn-out quickly because of the emotional strain oncology had on me. When I realized I didn’t want to continue in oncology, and didn’t know what else to do, a close friend offered to let me shadow in the NICU where he worked. I quickly realized that this was where I was meant to be.
Life as a NICU Nurse
Working as a nurse on a neonatal intensive care unit is an incredible journey that transformed me as a person. Our discipline in nursing is unlike most. We are a part of these infants’ and parents’ lives almost instantly and often without notice. Birthdays are typically one of the most memorable and exciting days of a parents’ life. It is important that we, as NICU nurses, do not take that for granted when performing our role. We are an immediate resource for parents during the transition from fetal to neonatal life, and I am so proud of that. A mother’s role as caretaker is so important in the process and being an active part in maintaining her parenting goals, is something that made me want to be a NICU nurse.
I started as a NICU nurse at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. This unit is a Level IV NICU which is an indication of a high functioning unit that sees some of the most critical patients in our area. Our patients are often admitted for many months at a time. An admission to the unit is often devastating for parents. It’s an honor to work as an advocate for them and their child. This relationship creates a bond built on trust and understanding. Eventually, I was motivated to further my passion as a nurse by pursuing a masters degree in neonatal nursing.
What Drove My Choice to Return to School?
My biggest motivation involved my nursing role as an educator. I wanted to know the “why” behind the process of what I was doing. I’m fascinated by the physiology behind the care we give as providers and wanted to use that knowledge to better educate parents. I want to give parents the power of knowledge, so they can actively participate in the care of their child and enhance their own ability to advocate for their baby.
I enrolled at East Carolina University to pursue an MSN in a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner program while continuing to work as a full-time nurse. This was an extremely difficult decision because of the known demand that comes with nursing school. It was important to make myself vulnerable by communicating with my family and friends my need for support for the time I was in school.
Struggling to Find a Work-Life Balance
The hardest part of going back to school was the time commitment. Spending all my time working three nights per week and juggling classes really wore on me. There were days that I stayed awake for 24+ hours for classes before and after a night shift. I felt physically and mentally absent from family and friends for many weeks and holidays. I made it a habit to call to catch up, check in, and let them know I was okay.
The amount of time dedicated to school while maintaining a full-time job was brutal. It felt like there were not enough hours in the day. I felt isolated and really struggled with my decision to return to school. Sometimes I questioned my choice and wondered if it was worth it. I worried I was giving up the present moment for something I’d regret in the future. At times, I contemplated taking a break from school so I wouldn’t feel like I was wearing myself so thin.
Going into my second year of NP school, clinicals started at area hospitals, adding additional obstacles to manage. I was lucky enough to have manager and coworkers who supported me. The support my manager showed was encouraging and instrumental to my educational journey. She listened to my scheduling needs and worked with me so that I could work my three nights as staff, go to clinical 1-2 days per week, and keep up with schoolwork. Having this support system at work was vital in maintaining a work and school balance while meeting staffing requirements.
By my last semester I felt completely burnt out with an additional factor of a 350 clinical hour requirement at a hospital almost 500 miles away. Clinical hours during the pandemic were few and far between due to hospital restrictions. A clinical placement in Asheville, NC was my only option. It was a low time for me. I tried not to let it show but the financial, social, emotional, and physical burden led to depression and anxiety. It felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders.
Support is Key
My family and friends were forgiving about my lack of presence, and very supportive of my goals. My manager also allowed me to take a short-term academic leave of absence. It was with this support system that I prevailed in earning my degree. With family, friends, and coworkers support, I made it through a really difficult time in my life.
In all, my nursing journey has been incredible. Getting through graduate school along with my staff nurse position was extremely challenging. I encourage anyone with the desire to further their education to do so. Having a foundation of support from family, friends, and work-life are absolutely essential. This process also showed me how important it is to have a work/life balance.
Transitioning from RN to NNP has been terrifying, yet rewarding. I’ve experienced days full of doubts, but also days of success and growth. As a neonatal nurse practitioner, my education is the foundation to my decision-making process as a provider. After years of working so hard towards my goal of becoming a nurse practitioner, and dreaming of school being over, I’m really trying to enjoy the “here and now”. My education as a nurse is far from over, and I look forward to growing as a provider, and becoming the best leader and educator that I can.
Edited by: Claire Lang