The healing power of nurses is the focus in honor of National Nurses Week in this episode of the Nursing Notes Live podcast. I got the chance to sit down and interview RN Donna Sabatino. Donna is an HIV/AIDS nurse educator and community liaison manager with the Janssen Therapeutics Infection Disease franchise. Sabatino is also a member of the Johnson & Johnson Nurse Innovation Council of Excellence (NICE).
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Jamie Davis: Hi, Donna, welcome to Nursing Notes Live. It’s great to have you on the show.
Donna Sabatino: Oh, it’s great to be on the show, thank you.
Jamie: So I always ask out Get-to-Know Nurses their background in nursing. First off, tell us a little bit about why you wanted to become a nurse.
Donna: Absolutely. I wanted to become a nurse for quite a few reasons. But actually I have to step back because nursing was a second career for me. I went to school to be a teacher. I was an athlete. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My guidance counselor back in the early days recommended I’d be a coach and a PE teacher. So off I went and it was in my senior year of college and realized this is absolutely not what I want to do but figured I’d better finish. I loved the whole health and wellness piece of the curriculum and decided at that point in time I would work in that field and then really just decided that nursing was the place I needed to be that tied together so much of that health and wellness that a lot of my undergraduate degree gave me. So I went into nursing really for many reasons but the passion for health and wellness and the passion for helping people that needed help even if it was just acutely.
Jamie: And still coach I’m sure. Nurses are great coaches for their patients.
Donna: Absolutely. Nurses are great coaches. Nurses are great advocates. Nurse are educators. Everything that we do ties in beautifully to the role I have now and some of the roles that I have had in the past in my nursing career.
Jamie: So what would you say to that person that’s considering a switch from an existing career path into nursing as to how they might apply or not apply their existing skills? Yes, you learn a whole new skill set and theory as a nurse but I found – and I know that other people who have come into nursing as a second career have all found – that there are so many things that you bring from your background in your previous career into nursing.
Donna: Yes. One of the first things I would ask them is “Why are you going into this field?” I certainly hope it’s not for the money and I certainly hope that it’s not something that you think will be easy. I really try to find out if they have the personality type to be a nurse and by that I mean are they patient? Are they willing to continuously educate themselves because whatever disease state this nurse is involved in, things change every day whether it would be technology, whether it would be the medications. I would want to know why they feel that nursing is their calling or is it just something they know the need out there, that there’s a shortage out there and they think, “I think I’m just going to be a nurse.” So there’s a lot of personality and deep-rooted personality traits that people need to have to be successful in nursing.
Jamie: So tell us a little bit about your progression through nursing school to where you are today. You went through nursing school as a second career and you got out. Where did you go from there that brought you to where you are today, which is really not a traditional nursing career path?
Donna: You’re absolutely right. I started in nursing school trying to see – I went part-time because I was working full time and my job was very flexible with that knowing that this was a career choice that I was very excited about. I was on a scholarship program to one of the large city hospitals at the time. Because of the nursing shortage, they were looking for people that they would then hire on after they finished up their schooling. So they paid for everything for me. I had to keep my GPA up and all of the things you normally need to do with any type of scholarship. Part of that was I needed to give a two-year giveback which to me was a no-brainer because I needed the experience and they would find me a job because they’ve invested in me. So I went on to a Med-Surg floor, which is a general practice floor, no specialty whatsoever, which I highly recommend for any new nurse because none of us really know or at least maybe we think we know but by the time we get through all the years and all the rotations, we may not know what we want to focus on. So I was placed on Med-Surg unit at one of the large city hospitals in Fort Lauderdale. From there is where I really started my journey down the road of HIV nursing. It was 1993 and the HIV epidemic was at its high in South Florida and that was the floor that many of people living with HIV-AIDS were being admitted. Many of them to die and many of them to get better and go out just to return back again. So the unit that I started on in 1993 we actually – two years later in 1995 created a dedicated HIV-AIDS unit where everybody who was hired on to that unit had to reapply and prove that they were someone that was truly interested in treating people with HIV because of all the stigma and a lot of the negativity associated with HIV at the time when everybody was so sick and dying.
Jamie: Yes, I remember that time clearly. It was interesting and sometimes a little scary time in healthcare as we became educated. I would liken it to what happened recently with Ebola and some of the misinformation and disinformation that was put out there. But certainly nurses have always been at the forefront of caring for people with infectious disease and it’s nice to see that you didn’t shrink from that task. What brought you go to work where you are now with the Janssen Therapeutics?
Donna: Well, again, my nursing career really hasn’t change disease states. I have stayed in HIV from day one and I presently work in the Infectious Disease Division of Janssen Therapeutics in a very unique role called a “community liaison manager.” It is a perfect fit for a nurse even though I am the only nurse on the team. There are eight of us that cover the entire United States. So we have very large geographies. But being the nurse on the team, I find it to be a perfect fit because we are the connection between the Infectious Disease Division of Janssen Therapeutics and the HIV community. So our role is to educate and advocate for people who are infected or affected with HIV disease. So it really is a perfect fit for someone who is a nurse. We also have social workers on the team and some NPHs and folks who have been in the health field in HIV. But being a nurse and being that person that, when I introduce myself and even speak to some of these patients and I say that I’m an RN and have been an RN in HIV you can almost feel them leaning in and feeling more comfortable because of nursing being such a trusted profession.
Jamie: It certainly is an honor I know for myself to be a member of that profession and I take that responsibility seriously because we are so trusted. And I can imagine what that must do with patients with an infectious disease, something like HIV living their lives with that. It probably helps them open up to you. Your nursing background helps you communicate better with them I would assume.
Donna: Absolutely. One of the things we can’t do when we’re doing patient education in this role is we cannot give personal medical advice. So sometimes that can be a challenge when I introduce myself and that I am nurse. Sometimes the patients just want to start asking about their personal medical advice. I do need to remind them that that is not my role there today. That my role there today is to talk about different topics around adherence or resistance or the importance of being open and honest with your provider or mental health issues. So it it’s never about them specifically and it’s never about any of our products, our antiretrovirals that we, at Jensen therapeutics, do produce and sell. So it’s never that piece, direct-to-consumer marketing, is something that our team is not allowed to do nor are we allowed to give medical advice. So I think once I reiterate that enough during our discussions, our Lunch and Learn, or whatever it is that we have at the agency, they’re okay with that but they sometimes still try to ask that question and it’s kind of like, “Can’t do it. Talk to your provider. They know you best” and so that’s even part of the process of education.
Jamie: That’s something that goes along with being a nurse. I know it’s one of the first things I was told in nursing school is people are going to start asking you medical questions because they find out you’re in nursing school and find out that you’re nurse and that’s true. So what is it that you say to people, nursing students for instance, when they ask you about how you choose a specialty in a career? How do I know which direction my career is going to go? Because you and myself and others have found so many diverse roles for ourselves as nurses in various career paths.
Donna: Absolutely. I try to find out what year they are. So are they just starting? Are they kind of going through the rotations yet? What year students are they? At that point in time you really need to go through all rotations. I don’t think nursing school has changed through the years where you have semesters – in every semester you’re going through a different rotation of the body system. So I usually recommend people not make any decisions ahead of time. I for one try to do that and it was nothing that I thought it would be. So I tell them about my experiences when I thought I wanted to be an ICU nurse realizing that I like to talk to people who are awake and they are people who are coherent and not on machines that are keeping them alive. So I found that out very quickly through my rotations, through all these different specialties. So I really just tell people to enjoy the moment. Take in all of it. Learn the most you can. I highly recommend people go to a medical-surgical unit in a hospital right after graduation and see where their career takes them from there and tell them what I do at this point in time 22 years later and how I got to where I got basically starting on a unit that had no specialty and growing it from there.
Jamie: Yes, I really do the same thing. I talk about keeping an open mind through all their clinical process because it is likely that it’s going to be that surprise clinical, the one they weren’t looking forward to. That if they keep an open mind may end up being the thing that they find their passion within.
Donna: Absolutely. And I also make sure they know that just because you choose a specialty today, yes, it’s one more thing you’ve learned but that doesn’t mean you need to stay there. There’s opportunities for growth and development through nursing that people don’t even realize are out there and, again, the prime example is the work I’m doing now in the field for a company like Johnson & Johnson, which is an amazing company to work for especially in nursing because of the nursing focus that the company does have.
Jamie: Let’s talk a little bit about that. I know you’re a member of the Johnson & Johnson Nurse Innovation Council of Excellence or NICE and it’s really great to see that there’s – not only does Johnson & Johnson support nurses outside the organization but they are also very supportive it seems of nurses within the organization. Do you like to talk a little bit about that?
Donna: Sure. I’m actually one of the original members of NICE and we launched a few years back and then it got really quiet. We didn’t have an executive sponsor, things that a lot of these employee relations group need kind of sell a little bit. And then we kind of regroup and pulled back together and since then we have well over 100 members from all over the J&J world. Whether they’d be in sales, technology, whatever field they are in in Johnson & Johnson, this ERG is open. Again we can’t discriminate. So it’s not just for nurses but even people who have a special place in their heart for nurses are very welcome to join this employee relations group. We are still in – I think we are the newest. I think we are the youngest employee relations group in J&J. Up until last year there were so many people that did not know about this group. So one of the things we’re doing actually now is trying to get the word out through all the operations and all throughout Johnson & Johnson to get folks to realize we exist and get people to hopefully join us whether they are nurse or not. We’re doing things around “Save the children.” We collaborated with them. We’re doing a project in Nicaragua around infants – trying to reduce infant mortality rates and keeping the children in countries like Nicaragua safe and healthy. So we have a team that actually went there. And now we have other sub-teams that are working on ideas to bring to Nicaragua. There are outreach groups that we’re trying to reach out to nursing schools to help them understand the importance of nursing careers in different directions you can go. We’re really just starting off. As new medications – something just came across my email this week that they are looking for nurses. That NICE has been asked to find out if there are nurses in the oncology space to help – because they’re going to be launching a new product to help with developing patient and nursing education. So it’s a place that as we get our name known more, that hopefully others will reach out to our NICE leadership and find out who in the organization has that expertise. Because J&J is so accustomed to going outside to look for experts. We probably have some great expert right within our own organization.
Jamie: I also like hearing that you get involved in something aside from just your workplace work, but also have joined this organization and become active in it. I wonder, as we kind of close down the discussion here, if you’d like to share a little bit about why it’s important for nurses to make sure that they are involved, whether it’s through the community or through their workplace, with outside outreach organizations.
Donna: Yes. As nurses, one of the things we don’t tend to possess are talking about ourselves and networking. We are so used to taking care of others and making sure everybody else is okay. That I think what drives us to this profession as dysfunctional as that maybe. That by joining and being part of things outside of your everyday activity helps you to find those other opportunities that might be out there. It helps you to share those experiences that you have. It helps you to grow other people who maybe are not where you are and help to help them blossom into their career. One of the things, whether it would be in ERG at work or whether it would be a nursing association – I’m very active with the Association of Nurses in AIDS care (ANAC) – and it’s an international organization that has chapters all over the world mostly in the US but other countries as well. We have one similar focus and that is HIV care. But there are nursing organizations that have specialties in all different areas. There’s operating room nurses organization. There are so many different organizations that help people to grow and to find others that have similar interests in what they’re doing.
Make sure you check out the entire May 2015 issue of Nursing Notes to learn more about how nurses have healed throughout history. 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 Arlene Keeling, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, the “Centennial Distinguished Professor of Nursing” at the Eleanor Crowder Bjoring Center for Nursing History at the University of Virginia. You’ll find this and other episodes of Nursing Notes Live in the podcast area on iTunes and check out the new podcast player at DiscoverNursing.com!