Emergency Staff Nurse: Interview With Gina Mendoza, RN
Educated with the help of an innovative hospital-college partnership program
Where are you employed?
I am a staff RN and relief charge nurse for the emergency department at White Memorial Medical Center - Adventist Health in East Los Angeles. I’ve worked there about two and a half years. This is my first job as a nurse.
How did your nursing career begin?
When I applied to nursing schools, I was actually placed on a number of waiting lists. I hadn’t considered attending community college, but when I applied to Rio Hondo College, I received an acceptance letter in less than a month. That basically changed my whole plan.
Six months into nursing school, I quit my job so that I could focus on my education. That was quite a struggle: My husband needed to completely support our family solely on his income.
Rio Hondo College has an ongoing partnership with White Memorial Medical Center. Their mission is the consistent growth of a community of well-trained nurses. During my second year of nursing school, I applied for a scholarship sponsored by White Memorial Medical Center, Rio Hondo College and the TELACU Education Foundation.
After a panel interview and intensive application process, I learned that I had been chosen along with nine other nursing students as a scholarship recipient. The scholarship provided a monthly stipend throughout my nursing education as well as the opportunity of a position in the versant program at White Memorial after passing the NCLEX. (The versant program is a comprehensive residency program for new nursing grads.)
Most of us couldn’t afford to spend time working during school, so the extra income was extremely helpful. The scholarship also included training and certification as a medical interpreter, which is a very useful skill.
Why did you choose emergency nursing?
I’ve always been interested in emergency medicine. I’m excited by the process of figuring out what’s wrong, fixing it, stabilizing the patient and moving on to the next person in need. I like being in a position to make patients’ experience of the ER more positive.
Long before I was a nurse, one of my children was born with cardiomyopathy; he needed open heart surgery when he was three weeks old. He was very sick for a long time, going in and out of the NICU and PICU, and the nurses were all very kind to him.
I always knew I wanted to work with people in some way and when this happened with my son, I wanted to find a way to give back to others. Due to the trauma of seeing him and other children so sick over such extended periods of time, I honestly didn’t want to be exposed to that level of long-term illness and suffering — it was too close to home.
I was drawn to emergency nursing because it offered the opportunity to work with patients in the short term, patching them up and sending them on to other providers and services.
Do you find it frustrating to not have the ability to follow up with your patients?
Yes, sometimes. This can be a good thing for me on one level, but once in a while, it hits home that I can’t follow up. Some patients come back to the ER to let us know how they’re doing and thank us for their experience. That’s always very rewarding.
What else do you find fulfilling about your work?
I like being able to support people when they’re at their most vulnerable. Whether I’m holding someone’s hand or doing chest compressions to save a life, there’s a powerful impact when we’re able to see them improve and stabilize after their arrival to the ER.
What is it like to witness so much trauma, suffering and death?
Those of us who work so close to death can sometimes develop a bit of a hard shell. We’re all impacted by the things that we witness in the ER. We might not show our emotions, but we face the same emotional roller coaster that non-healthcare providers do in similar situations. We have to protect ourselves emotionally.
Recently, there was a pediatric code and the baby didn’t survive. That was very difficult for all of us. It’s hard knowing that we couldn’t save that baby on top of not having the ability to follow up with the parents afterwards. I never knew if the child died due to SIDS, foul play or some other cause. Having that little face in my mind is honestly quite painful.
How do you recover from the stress and trauma?
We don’t necessarily have time to take care of ourselves during the shift. Some people might think that we were cold-hearted, going to lunch right after a code. But we have to keep moving and preparing for the next patient who walks through the door.
When we’re done with our shifts, some of us get together behind closed doors and unofficially debrief together, sometimes in the parking lot. We don’t have mandated debriefings in our department, but we’re in the process of putting together something more official in collaboration with the hospital chaplain and the Employee Assistance program.
Up until now, I’ve been lucky to be able to debrief with friends and coworkers and that has been sufficient. It’s not about finding a magic pill — it’s about expressing my concerns and feelings and then putting it behind me and moving on.
I live an hour from work, so I listen to the radio during the commute, think, and go over the day in my head. By the time I get home, I’m usually okay. I can sometimes talk to my husband, but I try not burden him too much.
You have to come home, be a mom, be a wife and wear a different hat. You can’t come home and be a good mom if you have this heavy load on your shoulders. It’s important to maintain healthy boundaries.
What qualities do you look for in your colleagues?
Those of us who work in the ER have to be flexible. We have to be willing to stop what we’re doing and completely change our entire course of action when it’s called for.
ER staff also have to be reliable. I absolutely love that I work with people on whom I can consistently depend. If I’m overwhelmed or need help, I don’t even have to ask — everyone rushes in to help.
Dependability, being responsible for your own actions and being a great communicator are also key attributes of a great ER colleague. More than anything, you have to be caring. If you’re caring, all of the other characteristics will come naturally.
What would you say about certifications and trainings for your specialty?
There are some basic required trainings and certifications that are good to have under your belt, like BLS [basic life support]. That’s all I had when I began working in the ER. During the versant program, I also earned my PALS [pediatric advanced life support], ACLS [advanced cardiac life support] and ECG interpretation certifications.
I came into the ER without any experience and was mentored by nurses who are excellent at what they do and wanted me to succeed. Whenever I needed something, my preceptors were there for me. I’m very grateful for that.
What are your professional aspirations?
I’m currently in school to earn my bachelor’s degree, mostly because we’re getting ready for Magnet status and most facilities will be requiring a BSN by 2020.
Eventually I’ll likely pursue a master’s degree to become a nurse practitioner as well as pursuing other trauma-related certifications that interest me.
I really like emergency medicine. It gives me a great opportunity to see so many different people in a variety of circumstances. I love people and I love learning, and when I go to work, I don’t know who learns more: my patients or me. That’s a great benefit of working in the ER.
This article is from workingnurse.com.