We feature nurses who give their time and passion for helping others by volunteering. What is it about nursing that encourages philanthropy? In this episode I interview a panel of philanthropic nurses including Gay-Lynne Jones, RN, Regional Director of Cancer Services at Altus Healthcare Management Service in Beaumont, Tex., an American Cancer Society Relay For Life Advisory Team Member; we also have Jenny Flynn, an RN at Children’s Hospital Colorado and volunteer with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation; and last, joining us is Dr. Cheryl Schmidt, nurse educator and American Red Cross National Volunteer Lead and Subject Matter Expert on Nursing Education. Let’s jump into that panel discussion now.
MP3 Audio Podcast
Jamie Davis: I want to welcome you all to the call and start off with you, Cheryl, if you would like – could you share a little bit about how you became a nurse. What helped you to decide that nursing was your career path and how you reach the point where you are today?
Cheryl Schmidt: Sure. I started out as a diploma nurse back in 1970 but my first role model was my mother. She taught nursing and was a nurse. My earliest memories with her in her uniform and being so happy in her career. So I had no other thoughts at all about a career other than nursing. And then when I got my diploma, I went to get a BSN and Master’s and then started teaching. So I’ve been teaching nursing since 1975. And I teach Community Health Nursing which gets me out in the community and it’s a fantastic career. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Jamie: Jenny, how about you? So I guess I’ll ask you the same question: how did you get started in nursing and how did you reach the point where you are today?
Jenny Flynn: Well, actually, my mom has a journal from – when I was in kindergarten that says I want to be a nurse when I grow up. So I wanted to be one since I was a kid. I actually went to college knowing I wanted to be a nurse. Got my Bachelor’s degree. And then during the summer of my college career, I went and worked as a nurse apprentice in Boise, Idaho and worked in a bunch of different units and found that oncology was a population I was drawn to and I always wanted to do pediatrics. So I kind of wrapped those two together and did that in my leadership on rotation in nursing school and that’s what I’ve been doing since 2004.
Jamie: So we’re going to be talking this month in both the newsletter and here on Nursing Notes Live about volunteerism in nursing and philanthropy. And one of the things that came up was the definition of philanthropy and saying that it’s the promotion or the desire to promote the well-being of quality-of-life of human beings. And I find that really a great definition. But it could also be the definition of nursing.Cheryl, what are your thoughts about that? Because they seem to be two things that really work well together: nursing and volunteering.
Cheryl: I definitely believe that. I think people go into nursing because they want to help people. It’s not just in a hospital setting. It could be anywhere. In community health, I happen to do a lot of my volunteer work with the Red Cross and disaster response. That seems to be part of the personality of a person who chooses nursing. So it’s a perfect fit: volunteerism, philanthropy, and nursing.
Jamie: Jenny, your thoughts?
Jenny: I think Cheryl said it really well. Nursing is a caring profession and wanting to volunteer just kind of goes hand-in-hand with that.
Jamie: So, Jenny, tell us a little bit about how you got steered into volunteering in the ways you are. I know you’re involved with some fundraising and projects with childhood cancers. Did that spring from your work in oncology?
Jenny: Yes, absolutely. I actually first learned about St. Baldrick’s because two of my co-workers volunteered for them years ago and they invited me to come down and see what’s it all about. Basically, what St. Baldrick’s is is people shaving their heads for childhood cancer research and the money goes specific to pediatric cancer research. So every year I would go down there and watch people shave their heads and I kept thinking to myself, “I want to do that.” So this year, a co-worker and I challenged each other to shave our heads. So on March 15th, we will become bald in the name of childhood cancer research.
Jamie: Wow, that’s quite a commitment to the organization. How many people are going to be involved in that?
Jenny: You know, I don’t honestly know how many people will shave their heads. In the past that I’ve been there, there’s been probably well over 50 people shaving their heads. And they have these events all over the country on different dates. So nationwide, that’s a really good question, I have to find out the exact number.
Jamie: That’s just exciting though and such a show of solidarity for a population of patients. Some of those things, we know, as nurses, we care for our patients in so many ways but to do something so concrete and tangible as shave your head, kudos to you, really.
Jenny: Thank you.
Jamie: Cheryl, what about you? You’re involved with the American Red Cross but how did you get started volunteering as a nurse?
Cheryl: Well, I actually volunteered for blood drives as a diploma nursing student as part of my clinical experiences. But when I finished my bachelor’s and was starting my Master’s, I joined the American Red Cross. The same month, actually about ten days later, joined the Army Reserve Nurse Corps. I was in both for 20 years but I stayed in the Red Cross because it’s the same kind of camaraderie and esprit de corps in volunteerism as the military. But I got started to teach CPR. I was one of the first faculty in the country to teach it because I wanted to teach my nursing students how to do CPR and I stayed with that for many years and then started doing disaster, Red Cross response back in ’99 when we had a plane crash in Little Rock, Arkansas where I teach. And because of my Army background, they put me out right next to the plane to respond, help the Hazmat group clean up and take care of their health needs out in the field. I get basically hooked on disaster. So I’ve been teaching disaster preparedness since then and actually created a course with some colleagues that is now being taught all over the country to prepare nursing students to respond to disaster. So I stayed with the disaster side but I’m also getting the students involved with blood drive, education in the community, teaching a variety of topics to people to keep them safe. Because the Red Cross, we’ve been preparing this and prevention of injuries and illness.
Jamie: That’s really an important part of our calling as a nurse, is to prevent injury and deal with the whole of the person’s being so that we are keeping them healthy, not just treating them when they’re sick. And that goes for preventative measures and preparedness because a prepared individual is going to be healthier and stay healthier during a disaster.
Cheryl: That’s right. We had an evacuation zone here in Arkansas when we had Hurricane Katrina, an L5. There were about 70,000 people from the Gulf Coast who evacuated to our state. So I started training nurses to work on our shelters and I’ve been teaching my nursing students ever since. I’ve trained probably over a thousand nursing students since L5 to volunteer during disasters. And it’s been a fantastic experience for them because it helps them care for others and it also get them ready for future disasters.
Jamie: Jenny, when we think about nursing students and instilling this feeling for going above and beyond which is what really volunteering is, what are some of the things, do you think, are most important for a student listening to this program to keep in mind when thinking about – “Yes, I’m going to have a career in nursing but it really truly is a calling and there are going to be other opportunities for me to serve.”
Jenny: Well, I think Cheryl, what she’s doing is actually a really great thing. I remember in nursing school working with the Red Cross on disaster preparedness. I did some volunteering with them. So I think getting right in during nursing school and starting off volunteering is a great start for your career because it will be probably part of your life for the rest of your career. And then I think people get – when you’re a nurse, it can be a tough profession to go into and you can get really bog down with the day-to-day stuff and going out and volunteering to really make you feel better about yourself and instill a sense of pride.
Cheryl: Nurses have to – because they already have that spirit of volunteerism, it’s just part of their nature, they have to find their passion and find something that fits with their particular career. For instance, if you’re a parent with kids, you might do things with the scouts, with your children’s school, do things that fit in to your lifestyle so that you’re not trying to be gone from home all the time that you’re there with the families. If you’re retired, you can do things that maybe other people can’t because of their job. So you basically find something that you’re interested in doing, you’re able to do and then it fits with your schedule. And basically it’s wide open. You can do anything. Anything from Red Cross, Cancer Society, American Heart, all those other organizations. But you can be creative in choosing maybe a Scout Trooper or a 4-H group or church group that you’re interested in helping.
Jamie: I know I’ve seen lots of things about parish nursing really taking off in some communities and helping to provide health services to a community in a church organization and really see a lot of interest about that type of nursing volunteerism. So it’s not necessarily just an organization but there are opportunities for nurses to find those ways to be a nurse in many ways, wouldn’t you agree, Jenny?
Jenny: I do agree. Yes. For example, my cousin is a nurse and she goes out to the local school and helps with doing lice check and swabbing their teeth for fluoride, different things like that. Here in Denver, we have a big homeless population. So a lot of nurses volunteer at the soup kitchens. And then you could even volunteer at your own hospital for different events that help raise money that funnels back into the hospital.
Jamie: What do you see is one of the ways for someone to kind of find their additional opportunities? Are there directories or things where organizations can be found? Have you discovered any way to direct someone to a certain volunteer opportunity?
Cheryl: I would check with the local United Way because they have many of the organizations in their system. And in most communities, they have a group called VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster) that go anywhere from the people that cut trees off of houses after tornadoes to scout group or church group that put together comfort kits, goes out maybe the Salvation Army feeding people. You can also do things such as the – the Red Cross just created a new course called “Protecting life, promoting health” where nurses can go into the community and do a presentation on the value of donating blood and what’s involved to try to motivate new donors to get involved in giving blood to their community.
Jamie: What about you, Jenny, do you have any thoughts on how to find the volunteer organization if you’re looking for a way to spend some additional time?
Jenny: I think Cheryl’s answer was way better than anything that I can come up with. [Laughter] Sorry.
Jamie: That’s okay.
Cheryl: That’s part of being a community health nurse.
Jenny: Yes. You’ve got the resources.
Jamie: It’s a good point though to be made that there are resources available and there are ways that you can – if you work in a facility, you can talk to social workers in your facility about opportunities. Their community health programs through your local health departments and really as many ways as nurses are involved in so many aspects of our lives in so many different career paths, there are opportunities in corporate America and other places to be a volunteer nurse.
Cheryl: Right. And I’m a retired Army nurse and so I direct students who are interested to serve in the Armed Forces. There’s a new program also that’s not necessarily Red Cross but it is helping veterans find out what access they have to resources. Because there are a hundreds thousands of veteran that don’t even realize that they might be able to get help at the VA or Veteran’s Benefit Department. So they are not aware like a Vietnam vet maybe who’d never gotten to the system. Then we also have all the public health –preparedness health and safety if you want to teach first aid, pet first aid, and baby-sitting classes, how to protect your family during a pandemic flu. So there are so many ways you can participate without necessarily doing one focus. You can do a variety of focuses or pick one that you really like and just focus on that.
Jamie: And it’s an opportunity, Jenny, to really explore maybe some other areas of health care that are not in your specialty but there are things that you have an interest in.
Jamie: So before we wrap up here. Jenny, I’ll just kind of start with you, is there something you’d share about your experience in your volunteerism as a nurse, the things that you do? Is there an opportunity that you’d like to just give someone the inspiration to go out and find their volunteer resource?
Jenny: Yes. You know, in my experience volunteering, this is my first year working with St. Baldrick’s but in the past I volunteered for our hospital’s Courage Classic which is a bike ride funneling money back into the hospital. And it’s just fun being out in the community interacting with people that you might have never met before. My volunteering to be up in the mountains enjoying the sunshine all day long. Volunteering doesn’t have to be grub work. You can do the hard work but still enjoy it. So I guess – my take away point is, it can be very fun to get out and volunteer.
Jamie: And I know there are a lot of people that volunteer as people that do kind of health checks at 10K runs and things like that. They’re out there. They are nurses and they are acting to help people stay hydrated and things like that but they’re enjoying the program as well and I think that your point is right on target. Cheryl, how about you? Do you have a take-away point? Something that you’d like to leave with our audience about encouraging them to find their resource in volunteering as a nurse?
Cheryl: Right. I think, again, finding that passion. But if you’re a nursing student listening to this, employers look at that resume and if all they see is a grade point, maybe even a summa cum laude, but nothing else, they might wonder if you’re going to be that nurse that will just go and punch the time clock, work and go home. Or are you going to be the one that will be on committees and help with your unit organization and be a leader in your healthcare facility. And if they see you have been involved in, say, the National Student Nurses Association, American Red Cross, any of the organizations that we’ve talked about, that you are going to be that nurse who will go the extra mile.
Jamie: That’s a good point. Because, and I know there’s a lot of nurses that are returning to the work force after maybe being home with their kids for a little while and are experiencing some difficulties sometimes getting back into the facilities, getting back to the bedside. But certainly being active as a volunteer is one way to pad your resume and show that you are an active participant and do a lot of different things.
Cheryl: Of course, it is fun and very heartwarming. I can’t imagine not doing volunteer work.
Part 2 with Gay-Lynne Jones
Jamie: Gay-Lynne, why don’t you take a few minutes and tell us a little bit about your background in nursing? How did you decide to become a nurse?
Gay-Lynne Jones: Well, actually I’m originally from Canada. And I was a figure skater and really truly wanted to – I thought I want to have a career being a figure skating instructor, however, my parents were kind of opposed to that. They felt like I should do something else with my life. When I gave it some thought, the only thing that I really truly felt like I really wanted to do at the time was become a nurse. And so I kind of – I made an agreement with my parents. If I got accepted into the nursing program in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which is where I was raised at, I said that I would go through and become a nurse. And if for some reason I didn’t get accepted into the program, then I would become a teaching instructor and I was accepted into the nursing program. So I became a nurse and it was the right career choice for me.
Jamie: That’s interesting. You know, I love asking that question because as many different nurses as there are, there are as many different answers to that question. Tell me a little bit about your career path to date. Now, the different ways. I know you’re involved with, I believe, cancer or oncology nursing. But how did you become an oncology nurse? Did you start off in Med-Surg and moved to oncology?
Gay-Lynne: Actually, I started off in cardiac nursing and I was working on a cardiac step-down unit. Had always felt like I really wanted to do cardiac nursing. I worked in a coronary care unit for a significant period of time and had felt like that was really truly what I had wanted to do; however, I had an opportunity to become a nurse manager over a medical unit, kind of a medical-surgical unit, and so I was kind of convinced to do that. And at that point in time, I really enjoyed what I was doing. But there was a physician that was over the oncology unit that I had some interaction with and he kind of went to the administration and said, “Actually, I want this person to be over our oncology unit.” And so they came to me and said there was a physician with an opening, would you be interested?” I said, “Truly, my passion lies in cardiac nursing and that’s really the direction I want to go.” They just kept coming back and say that, “The doctor’s not giving up. He really thinks you’re the person that needs to be over that unit and he is willing to – he can train you and teach you everything that she might need to know.” So in the end I said, “Okay, I’ll give it a try and see what happens.” And truly it was a life-changing experience and oncology is really where my niche is and I have sold into that and I have been in both inpatient oncology nursing as well as outpatient. I am currently regional director over two outpatient cancer treatment centers in Texas.
Jamie: You never know which direction your career is going to take when some of these opportunities come along.
Gay-Lynne: That is so true. You really don’t and for me oncology nursing is really truly – it was the right calling and is really where my passion lies and I love oncology nursing.
Jamie: So this month we’re talking about philanthropy in nursing. Tell me a little bit about how you decided that there was an opportunity to volunteer in addition to your career as an oncology nurse.
Gay-Lynne: Well, I think that nurses typically are people that are very nurturing. Have that feeling that they want to give back. And very early on in my career, I became involved with the American Cancer Society and I truly – it’s something where you can see that the dollars that you raised are really going to benefit research. They go into benefit patient resources and things like support groups, educational programs, wig services. There’s so many things that the dollars that are raised in the community actually stay in the community and you can see them being utilized. The services that the American Cancer Society provided were services that my patients can benefit from and sometimes would not have received those benefits if it hadn’t been for the American Cancer Society. So I became involved with them very early on when I came in oncology and I’ve been doing oncology nursing since about 1983.
Jamie: The definition of philanthropy or a definition of philanthropy is to be involved in the promotion of well-being and quality-of-life for human beings but I could argue that that is also a definition of nursing or the drive behind nursing, does that why nurses make such good volunteers and are so active in their communities?
Gay-Lynne: I think so because I think that they truly become passionate and they really want that way to be able to give back and I think that you’re really worried about the wellness of others and how are you able to do that. So I think that it’s just such a natural fit for nurses to do volunteer work and to find areas that they are interested in and what it actually truly interests them. Although there are many great organizations out there, it’s just – for me, the American Cancer Society was that perfect fit.
Jamie: Do you see volunteering as a great opportunity to try out different things and other passions?
Gay-Lynne: It really. It is a great opportunity. It is a great opportunity for nursing students to be able to find out where their passions going to be and what they wanted to become involved with and where do they think they want to go in their nursing career because a lot of things really truly can mirror what it is that you’re involved in your career, as well as, what you want to take and do the volunteer with. And it also is a way, I think, that you’re able to network with more people so you’re able to be exposed to more. A lot of times, you’re able to find out other things that are out there that are available that you might want even in looking at it as a career, who you become involved with and who you see as – it might help shape what your nursing career is going to be in the direction it’s going to actually go. I think that when you’re in nursing school, you’re fairly overwhelmed and you’re having so many rotations that you’re going through in different areas that they do clinicals in that when you get out in the community, start volunteering, then you get to meet other nurses lots of times as well, physicians and things like that. They can help shape what your future is going to be.
Jamie: What are some of the ways that volunteering has helped you develop professionally?
Gay-Lynne: I think for me, I have – like I said, I volunteered for a long time. But one of the things that I volunteer with the American Cancer Society with is the Relay for Life. For me, not only I’m involved in the local community and I’m on that committee, but I also am on the High Plains Division. We also have like a Relay Advisory Team. I’m on that. As well as, on the National Relay Advisory Team. So throughout my career and being able to do things with the American Cancer Society and the Relay for Life, they provide a lot of training and a lot of coaching and a lot of things that you see that truly are things that you can relate back into your everyday life and what it is that you do with your career. So there’s like – there’s a lot of leadership development and a lot of skills and things like that that I was able to benefit through from them and bring in to my career and what I do as a job, for my job.
Jamie: As we wrap this segment up, would you like to share some words of wisdom or final thoughts to encourage the nurses and students that are listening to this program to go out there and seek their volunteer passion?
Gay-Lynne: I really think that they should. I think that everybody has that opportunity to give back and has that need to give back and you need to find out where your passion lies and give back to your communities. Because there is no greater reward than being able to know that you’re making the difference in somebody’s life and it doesn’t matter how big of a contribution you make or what you feel like may not be as significant. Whatever it is that you choose to do and how much time you can give, is definitely going to take and make a difference. So when it comes to look for like a Relay for Life in your area, either develop a team, get on a team, join the committee and look at where that can take you, what it is that you want to do. Sometimes just even volunteering for the day of an event to be able to help set things up if you don’t have a lot of time. But I think that the rewards of volunteering on what you get back are so much more than what you would think that they would be that – it really truly is one of the most rewarding things that you can do.