In the nursing world, sometimes I think we all have issues supporting each other. I’m not exactly sure why. Perhaps, it’s because we are primarily female and battling our own insecurities or maybe it’s just human nature. But I’ve noticed, on more than one occasion, the discriminatory behavior between nurses when one chooses to further his or her career by going back to school. This is sometimes portrayed with nasty comments from peers or consistently poor patient assignments. Not to mention, lack of support from nurse managers or even academic hospitals. Anytime a nurse wants to go back to school, friends of the nurse have to stay quiet and recommendation writers are begged for secrecy to prevent retaliation. This is just so unfortunate to me, because I feel as nurses and women, we should be supporting and respecting each other.
So, since I’m always interested in advocating for nurses and the nursing profession, I have a great story to tell you about my mother related to the above topic. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know the details of this story until I finally sat down and quizzed her about it. She never was really one to share or boast.
It begins around 1971 after my mom graduated from Indiana University with her first bachelor’s degree (major in French and minor in Spanish and Italian). Upon graduation, she was unemployed and decided to move to Washington D.C. for a year to look for a job. After a year of sleeping on someone’s floor and little success, she moved back to her parent’s house in Illinois. Coming from a medical family, her father presented her with an article in the paper about a nursing program in Denver designed for people who already had bachelor’s degrees and encouraged her to look into it.
Within the next few weeks, she discovered that St. Louis University had a similar program (this was much closer to home for her), so she applied, and was accepted to the program. Shortly thereafter, she began an accelerated BSN program.
Her class “…had ten or eleven people,” she told me. “Some were men and had been in the service; we even made the news.” She recalled rotating through clinicals in several of St. Louis’s hospitals, including City Hospital, SLU Medical Center and St. Mary’s, but her favorite was Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital.
After graduation she worked at Cardinal Glennon as a bedside nurse on a unit for children with hemophilia. She recalls working in a very tight knit group. Cardinal Glennon was stirring with medical residents and students of all sorts, but the pediatric group was a more specific cohort. The nurses and residents would frequently eat meals together after night shifts or spend time together outside the hospital.
This created a very healthy work environment. So, often after her nursing duties were complete for the morning, she would fill her extra time rounding with the residents on the other patients to expand her knowledge. Now, I know what you are thinking. Who has time to round with the doctors on every patient? Well, nursing in the 1970’s was different and so was medicine overall. “There was far less bullshit then, than there is today,” my mom’s words, not my own (although you are probably gathering where I get it from).
After working there for around a year and continuing to develop her passion, she was approached by one of the pediatricians she knew very well. “Dr. DeCastro was an energetic physician…his lab coats were always a little dirty, he talked fast, and was smart as a whip.” He asked her to participate in a pilot program to train registered nurses to become pediatric nurse practitioners. “He had the foresight to see nurses had the skills and knowledge to care for patients independently.” She also recalls never feeling inferior to him. In fact, when she decided to participate in the program, she was taught by physicians. There were very few advanced practice nurses teaching during this time.
Dr. DeCastro took some flack for starting the nurse practitioner certificate program. He replaced the flack with motivation. My mom said she would hear other doctors say to him, “You have to be crazy, you can’t let a nurse do that.” And they all just kept going and ignored it.
The program was no more than a year and was funded by St. Louis University. She remained working full-time as a bedside nurse, but rounded in a charitable clinic with the residents as well. This is where she became even closer with the residents and doctors and met a doctor who was furthering his training in pediatrics, named Dr. Keyes.
Dr. Keyes knew her well, knew her passion for medicine overall and asked her if she had ever considered going to medical school. The key here is that when he asked her, he asked her because he knew she would love it. He did not ask her to devalue her current position as a nurse.
She told him that she really had not, but even if she wanted to, she would not be able to afford it. Long story short, he told her if she could get into medical school, he would loan her the money and she could pay it back when she was done with her residency.
So, that’s what she did. “It was all about being at the right place, in the right time, with the right people,” she told me. “Bottom line, everyone was nice, respected each other’s talents, and supported each other…no bullshit.” Once again, her words, not mine.
She graduated from St. Louis University Medical School in 1984 and practiced as an obstetrician until last year. She started paying Dr. Keyes back as soon as she finished her residency. When I asked her if being a nurse helped her on her quest she quickly responded.
“You’re darn right it did. I knew my way around the hospitals and understood the way medicine worked. Also, my nursing skills taught me how to truly be with patients instead of treating them like numbers and test results…oh, and, when you’ve been a nurse prior to medical school, you know your fellow nurses will help you look smarter than you are.” I laughed and concurred.