Meet Dylan Green, author of “The Second Career Nurse” blog and a practicing ER nurse for almost two years, and Patrick Hopkins, Co-Director for the Accelerated Program for Non-Nurses and an Assistant Professor of Clinical Nursing at the University of Rochester School of Nursing. He’s also a Pediatric/Neonatal Advanced Practice Nurse at the Golisano Children’s Hospital. Here’s what they have to say.
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Jamie Davis: Dylan and Patrick, I want to welcome both of you to our recording here of Nursing Notes Live, it’s great to have you both on the how.
Both: Thank you for having us.
Jamie: We’ll start with you, Patrick. Just if you’d like to share with us a little bit about your background in nursing, why you wanted to become a nurse and a little bit about the career path that’s brought you to where you are today.
Patrick Hopkins: So I actually went to school to become a clinical biochemist and finished that degree and realized that I was not going to have any contact with the people whose samples I was going to be running in the lab. I had come over to the United States in a student exchange program and ended up working with mentally ill, developmentally-challenged adults and realized that I loved doing that. I loved the interaction. I get that before finishing my degree program in England. So I went back home, finished the degree, and after I came back to the US and taught the same population for three years. During that time, I found myself gravitating towards the nursing office. I was one of the people that got chosen to take the clients for their follow-up appointments. After three years, the visa ran out and I went back home to England and decided I was going to volunteer in a hospice. So I volunteered in a hospice for a short while. Applied to and got into nursing school and got a nursing degree from St. James University Hospital in Britain. It was at the time the largest teaching hospital in Europe. Midway through though, I got married to a woman from America and she didn’t want to live in England. So I came over to the US and worked with developmentally challenged children for five years in a nursing role. When my own kids were born, we moved to Rochester to be close to grandparents and I got a job over at the local hospital, which is affiliated with the University. I decided to stay with pediatrics because that’s where I’ve had the most experience. I ended up being hired for a position in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I have now been there over 20 years. After I’ve been there for about four years, I started the Master’s Pediatric Nurse Practitioner program doing that part time, completed that, and then afterwards went on and started to do a post-Masters NNP program and completed that in 2001. I started actually down the PhD path. My nine-year-old daughter at the time said, “Dad, do you need to do this, to keep doing what you do?” My response was, “No.” She said, “Well, do you love what you do?” And I said, ‘Yes.” She said to me, “Dad, please don’t go back to school. When you’re in school, you’re here but you’re not home.” So I waited until she was 15 and then got roped in to doing a DNP, which I completed in 2009. Just prior to completing the DNP, got asked to come over to the school of nursing here and teach. Initially, I was only teaching Master’s level students. Then I was asked to teach some of our accelerated students and found out that I really like the student population. Last year, I ended up becoming the co-director of our accelerated program for non-nurses. So I teach during the week. I am the co-director of the program. On the weekend, I still go into the NICU and play with the little babies.
Jamie: That’s awesome and it’s nice to hear the family connections that you have and then how you were able to make things work with family and school and everything. I have similar stories for my kids talking about when I was nursing school and making decisions about moving forward in my degrees and things like that. It’s nice to hear how we are able to make these things work out over the course of our career.
Patrick: Sure. Yes.
Jamie: How about you, Dylan? Tell us a little bit about why he wanted to become a nurse and your background that brought you to where you are today.
Dylan Green: Sure. Well, my resume isn’t as nearly as impressive as Patrick’s but I got a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Nursing was not even anywhere on my radar. I actually got a Bachelor’s in Psychology. People aren’t exactly throwing jobs at you. So I needed something to do. Actually, earlier in my life, in high school and before, I wanted to be a police officer. One day, I just saw an ambulance driving by with lights and sirens and I said, “Hey, maybe I should try being an EMT just for the excitement factor.” Through that job, we transport patients from 911 scenes into the hospital, into the ER, and I started to meet nurses. I started to see that there are nurses that looked like me. There are nurses that are men. That they actually have a big impact on patient care. I would see that the doctors would really just be at the bedside for a minute or two and then it was the nurse who is really there watching the patient. I just loved the ER environment and I decided that’s where I kind of wanted to be. So after working for three years on an ambulance, I went into the ER and started working as an emergency room technician. We will set up procedures for doctors, put on splints, teach crutch training, dress wounds, just all the kind of random things in the ER that no one else wants to do. I did that for another, about four years, at two different hospitals. While I was taking prerequisites that I hadn’t finished in my bachelor’s at a local community college here, and I ended up getting accepted to the UCLA – they call it the “MECN” program. It’s a Master’s Accelerated Program for generic masters in Nursing. And I was lucky enough to get hired as a registered nurse in the ER that I was working as a tech and I’ve been doing that for two years now.
Jamie: And, Dylan, you write your blog about being a second-career nurse. Do you get a lot of response from people who are looking at nursing as a second career and reading your posts and trying to get a handle on whether it’s for them or not?
Dylan: I’ve been surprised. The blog was really in its infancy and there’s not a whole lot of content there and there’s not a whole lot of traffic either, but I’ve been surprised by the number of emails that I receive directly from people that are in the exact condition I was a few years ago. They want to know how do I do it. They see like being a nurse, it’s this kind of like idea they want to get to but they are doing something else now and they want to know like what those first steps that they need to take. So I do love just helping people navigate as best as I can.
Jamie: Patrick, that seems that Dylan’s story rings true to me in many ways. First of all, I’m a second-career nurse as well. My original degree was in Communications and Journalism and then later on became a paramedic and got into nursing from the EMS sector as well, but it sounds to me, similar to a lot of people I know that are second-career nurses, does that jibe with what you’ve seen?
Patrick: Yes, I would agree with that. I find it interesting that it we are three guys talking together. We are not the current demographic for nurses, but I have noticed that more and more men are coming in to the profession, which is wonderful, and my colleagues that are nursing managers always say that the unit improves when they get a man on the unit. I work with 200 nurses in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and I’ve managed to increase the number of men from four to nine. My goal is to get 20 men on the unit because then we’ll be 10% and that would be a nice to get to have. But in terms of diversity of people that are coming in to nursing now, we’ve had an NFL player. We’ve had attorneys. We’ve actually had physicians come in to our accelerated program for non-nurses trained in other countries. Like yourself, Jamie, we’ve had journalists. People, I think, are looking for stable employment and that is something that you can get from nursing but you can also get a great deal of satisfaction from doing what we do.
Dylan: Right. I just like to reiterate that in my nursing class, there was an incredible diversity of people in terms of ages, genders, previous careers. We also had a physician from another country. We had a pharmacist from another country. It’s just amazing. We had actors, lawyers. So, yes, I agree. It’s amazing. Diverse people that want to become nurses.
Patrick: Sure. I think one of the other great things that’s occurring for at least others in the program that I’m working with, we were lucky enough to be recipients of RWJ Scholarship dollars. And so we can now actually help out with some of the costs of the program for people that are in the minorities. Actually, in nursing right now, being a white male is a minority. We had been reaching out to the African-American community by doing visits to predominantly African-American colleges trying to get a more diverse makeup to the nursing workforce. If I think about where I work, I work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit probably 30% to 40% of the patients I take care of happen to be African-American. I believe we’ve only got maybe three or four African-American nurses on the staff. I’m not trying to say that we can’t provide culturally competent care to the patients that we serve, but perhaps it would be more comfortable to the families if they were seeking that care from someone that happen to have the same skin color as them. I do think it’s amazing, the diversity and the range of jobs. Some of the people that I’m always happy to get into the program are people that have got, say, Master’s in Education already, because all I’m thinking about there is that they are coming in to replace me. We desperately need new faculty members.
Jamie: It’s so important to think in that direction too, the new faculty members in to replace ourselves, but one of the challenges I see with second-degree and second-career nurses is that they aren’t bringing the average age of nursing down very much because they often are later in their career, so they’re later in life entering nursing, which is a challenge when we look at the numbers of nurses who will be retiring over the coming years. Do you see that as a challenge as well, Patrick?
Patrick: It’s interesting because we look at the demographics of each group that comes in and our youngest students – we’ve had a few now that have not even been 21 when they entered the program. They’ve done a degree in another field, realized it wasn’t for them. Perhaps they’d managed to do it in three years rather than four and they went to college early. So we’ve had quite a few 20-year-old students. Our oldest student was, I think, she was 63 when she came into the program, and she’d been a realtor on the West Coast earning a lot more money than she will ever earn in nursing. We currently have a gentleman in the program who is in his 60s. He was an attorney down in New York City. He’d like to ultimately do hospice nursing. But when we look at the whole demographic of the group, the average age tends to be about 27 to 28. Maybe that is because we’re drawing a younger population. We always have some older students, but I always think, “Boy, the 28-year-olds have a lot more maturity coming into the profession than an 18-year-old fresh out of high school.”
Dylan: Right, and I just like to add that it does raise the average age up from, what? I think that the people that are entering through this program are people that are, like Patrick mentioned, more mature on average and they’re also dedicated to nursing. They’ve often gone through a lot getting the prerequisites done while working, sometimes while having kids. So they’ve already demonstrated that they’re dedicated to nursing and I don’t have the data to back it up but I feel like these are going to be the people that are going to end up being faculty. These are the people that are going end up being the real role models for the younger nurses.
Jamie: It’s interesting because I think about the various careers and you all both listed the numbers of different careers that came into second-career nursing programs. One of the things that I’ve always thought about was how the things that I did before I became a nurse, really, as various and diverse as they were, all in some way lent themselves to my nursing practice and made me a better nurse. I was looking at the other people I was in school with and the people I’ve met after that, and I felt that they all bring, like you said, that additional maturity and that desire and drive, but the skills they gained in their previous career also went to serve them in their nursing careers.
Dylan: Oh, absolutely. Yes, I absolutely think that’s true. I can’t think of a career like what would use my – the knowledge I gained in psychology, in my bachelor’s degree, I use it every day on the floor. Obviously, in EMT it’s related, it’s in the medical field, but just bringing that kind of comfort with medical equipment and just with sick patients, obviously, help me as a nurse but, yes, I think just the range of – sometimes I wish that I had more experience outside of the medical field because they really do think that it adds to your nursing skills.
Patrick: And I would agree with that. I think that for people that are second-career nurses, they use whatever skills they learned in their previous profession to inform the way that they deliver nursing care. They only add to the richness of the care that we deliver. The other thing that I find with nurses where it is a second career is they tend to be more confident than people that have only ever done nursing. They’ve already been used to working on teams often. They already have a level of self-worth that a 21-year-old may not always have. They are able to challenge other team members appropriately when they need to and do it in a way that does not create dissension within the team. The number of times that I have seen our students talking to physicians on the floor or nurse practitioners or any other members of the healthcare team and raise a question saying, “We’re doing this, but I’m really not sure why, can you explain the pathophysiology?” or “I don’t think that that’s a good idea because of ABC.” I think that students that come in and go through and become second-career nurses, they are more likely to progress on to leadership positions much faster and we are actually leveraging that through our RWJ scholars. We actually provide them with leadership content. We’re already seeing the gains start to occur from that. Some of our students have gone on – one person that I know of, she was an attorney in a previous life, after becoming a nurse, got a job in a hospital not in this area and within months, she was identified as someone that would be really good for quality improvement, quality assurance. She’s been groomed for that position. She has grace. She has poise. She’s articulate. She knows about patient rights. She knows about the law. She’s already moved on into a leadership position and I see that for a lot of second-career nurses.
Jamie: Well, like you said, they bring their previous experience working in a job where they’ve had to interact with people of different positions already. They bring that personal maturity, but they also bring that professional maturity, which I think is what you both were talking about, is that team concept, that teamwork aspect that goes on in so many businesses, especially in corporate America. Bringing that into the workplace certainly lends itself to the focus on team-patient management that we see in so many hospitals now.
Dylan: Yes, I totally agree. Sometimes I don’t think that nursing is the best first full-time job for a person to have because it can be a lot to handle. If you don’t have any experience really working in your whole life, you’ve just been in school, it can be a challenge to face the realities of nursing that can sometimes be extremely challenging.
Patrick: Yes, I think that’s true. The extra life experiences, I remembered some of the people that I went to school with, they were fresh out of high school. I was the oldest person in my class. I was only 26 at the time and my view on death and dying was very different to an 18-year-old seeing death and dying. Because of interactions with people that were very different and sometimes even because of coming to another culture, I found that communication skills would be improved and communication in healthcare is paramount.
Jamie: As we kind of wrap up things in this episode, I’d like to give you each an opportunity to kind of share your thoughts for that person who’s listening to this. That prospective nursing student or someone that’s seeing this title for second-career nursing and is thinking about a career in nursing, what advice would you offer them? Dylan, I’ll let you go first. What advice would you offer that person that’s saying, “I really want to change. I love helping people. I think nursing would be a good career for me.”?
Dylan: Sure. The first thing I want to do is just to encourage them. They should listen to their heart. It can very well be what they’re meant to do. I would say, definitely, know what you’re getting into. I think a lot of people make the mistake. They have these kinds of stereotypes around nursing in their head about what nursing is. I think until you really see what nurses do on a day-to-day basis, I’d say, “Go in. Be a volunteer in a hospital.” Even if you’re just pushing patients around on wheelchairs, you’re seeing what the nurses are doing. You’re seeing the challenges they have to deal with. The high stress, it’s a physically and emotionally demanding. You don’t always have a lot of control over circumstances. You have to do a lot of adapting on-the-fly. Besides volunteering, I think it’s a great idea to look into becoming a CNA or a nurse assistant. Generally, the training, it doesn’t take very long. Another option is Emergency Medical Technician, the route I took. Yes, I just think that getting in there and really knowing what you get yourself into before you commit to nursing. The first step would be just go online, look at your local community college. Go to the various schools with prerequisites and just start taking prerequisites. Take baby steps and eventually you’ll get there.
Jamie: Patrick, what about you?
Patrick: I think Dylan was extremely eloquent there and hitting up on all the major points that I tell people that are asking me about careers in nursing. The only thing that I would add to it is that there are such a range of options within nursing for what you might want to do when you’re done. Peds, acute care, community-based care, mental health care. Do you want to work Monday through Friday in an office? Do you want to be able to have the flexibility of your time so that perhaps you work evenings and weekends but you get to get your kids off the school bus in the afternoon if that’s what’s important for you? The complete realm of possibilities within nursing is almost endless. I tell students, “If you’re thinking about it, definitely volunteer, definitely think about getting the CNA and then come on in. We need to find out where your passion lies. We need to try and move you towards in that direction so that you can fulfill your passion and be happy. If your job becomes like a hobby, it’s really not a job. As I’ve mentioned before, we are really in privileged position. We are there at the beginning of life. We’re there at the end of life. We celebrate and commiserate on some of the major events in people’s lives. It truly is an honor. It’s a privilege to be present.
Make sure you check out the entire June, 2014 issue of Nursing Notes, where we look at nursing as a second career. You can read the entire issue online at www.discovernursing.com and don’t miss the other Nursing Notes Live episode this month where I sit down with our Get to Know Nurse Chris Fogarty. Chris is a 2013 Graduate of Kent State’s accelerated BSN program and currently works in the intensive care unit at Mercy Medical Center in Canton, OH as a staff RN. You’ll find this and other episodes of Nursing Notes Live in the podcast area on iTunes.